feeds | grep links > Mobile Cloud, Name Changes and Reputation, Joke Patents at Sun, and More

  • Building a cloud out of smart phones
    Advancing beyond theory, a group of international researchers have cobbled together a proof of concept out of a dozen or so cell phones and a dedicated router. As Technology Review explains, this mobile phone based cloud is capable of driving one fairly typical distributed algorithm, map/reduce. I have to agree with the article that the rational for this, beyond the obvious clever hack value, is a bit lacking, even the possibility of moving computing back towards data, potentially cutting down on message passing. If there is a killer use for the idea, I’m sure someone will find it.
  • danah boyd criticizes Schmidt’s name change idea
    She makes good points on both deflating the implied ease of changing your name and on how reputation is likely to persist through a simple discontinuity such as tweaking the label on all your personal data online. She acknowledges that it is hard to make predictions about how reputation will evolve in practice and how much we may be able to affect it. Mostly she questions what it isn’t we don’t know about Schmidt’s recently expressed opinions both here and on the end of privacy. I like that she gives him the benefit of the doubt, suggesting there might be some puzzle piece we don’t have that could complete a rational synthesis of his opinions.
  • Sun engineers held a contest for goofiest patents
  • Vimeo releases new embeddable HTML5 player
  • Pirate Party strikes hosting deal with Wikileaks
  • All electrical data storage could deliver eight fold improvement in density

jQuery Mobile Project

jQuery is one of the most popular of a class of libraries originally intended to ease the pain of working with JavaScript as implemented by a variety of web browsers. I’ve used jQuery for a couple of projects and other libraries for still others. I find that the API design in jQuery is simpler and more intuitive in terms how how consistently and thoroughly the core idioms are applied. These days, when I need to do any browser work and I have a free choice, I use jQuery.

More recently a rich ecosystem of third party plugins has evolved for jQuery. The quality of design and adherence to the core library’s idioms varies pretty widely but the ability to easily drop in bits that extend jQuery’s reach is attractive, even given the necessary trade-offs that often involves.

I was pretty thrilled, then, to see the H share the announcement that the jQuery developers are looking to do for mobile browsers what they have already done for desktop browsers.

According to jQuery creator John Resig, as part of the new mobile project, the core jQuery library is being improved to work across the various major mobile platforms and their browsers. Resig says that the developers are working to release “a complete, unified, mobile UI framework”. Current expectations are that this will be completed in late 2010.

As the H goes on to explain, the idea will be to ease the creation of touch based apps that degrade gracefully across the different capabilities provided by the combination of mobile browsers with particular mobile devices. jQuery is not the first project to tackling the mobile space, specifically for touch apps on mobile browsers. If they bring the same clean, simple design to the API and the amazing code quality as the original version, they should be able to produce a compelling, competitive offering despite perhaps arriving a little late.

jQuery itself is free software, available under a dual GPL or MIT license. Presumably the new mobile version will use the same licensing scheme which makes it pretty much a no brainer in terms of freedom to use with all kinds of applications. The H links to plenty more detail if you are curious, including a detailed grid of browser support.

jQuery Mobile Project announced, the H

Impressions Using Firefox Home

These days there are increasingly fewer things about which I still act like much of a fanboy, especially in the world of technology. Firefox seems to be resistant to that trend, whatever its cause. Undoubtedly the bigger picture view of Mozilla’s advocacy for open standards is a larger part of my continuing devotion. That being said, it is hardly surprising Firefox is one of the few bits of software I really want to be able to run everywhere, including my sole, smart mobile device, an aging iPod Touch.

Mozilla has made it clear that they have no plans to port the mobile version of Firefox, Fennec, to Apple’s mobile platform. They did, however, announce an interesting compromise, an iPhone app called Firefox Home. It essentially is a client for Mozilla’s encrypted sync service, originally called Weave but recently re-branded as simply Firefox Sync. The roadmap has Sync being pulled into the browser itself as a 1st class feature with the forthcoming version 4. Right now, it is still an add-on.

I prefer Sync to similar solutions for coordinating bookmarks and other data between browser instances on multiple machines because Mozilla has very intentionally built it so you can run your own Sync server if you so desire. They’ve also worked to make running it off of their servers as palatable as possible, encrypting and decrypting data that flows through the services only at the browser.

I was thrilled to see Home, which had been submitted to Apple for inclusion in their app store, received approval today. I of course immediately installed it and gave it a whirl.

In broad strokes, it does exactly what it says on the tin. It makes your synced bookmarks, tabs, and history available and searchable with an awesome bar-like UI. Unfortunately, this version lacks some of the features of the awesome bar, such as being able to limit searches to tags (+) or history (*), but it is still incredibly useful. The app partially makes up for the command-line like modifiers by having separate views where you can access just your open tabs from other machines and a bookmark view that is pretty similar to the sidebar view of bookmarks in the Firefox browser proper.

What I found surprising is that Home embeds WebKit, so clicking on any of the sites visible in the various views brings up a browser view immediately. This is pretty common to iPhone apps so I am not sure why it surprises me. I also feel a little weird using a Mozilla app that doesn’t ultimately use their rendering engine–maybe that’s the source of my surprise.

Regardless, I find this app very useful for how I tend to use my Firefox bookmarks. I have a folder, named “Queue”, that is my read later bucket. Now I have access to that with my iPod Touch where it is often most convenient to peruse some article or post I’ve bookmarked entirely out of curiosity, not an item I’ve saved for the more intensive reading I do for the blog and podcast.

My sole complaint is probably not the fault of Mozilla. On my aging first generation iPod Touch, Home feels a bit sluggish. It makes sense as I have a considerable amount of synced data. The settings page says 2000 history items and 622 bookmarks. I don’t see any way to tweak how much Home syncs, versus my full browser instances using the Sync add-on. I suspect that would help with my particular situation. I’d be curious to hear from anyone with a newer, faster iPhone, iPad or iPod who has also installed Firefox Home to confirm my suspicions about its poor performance being a consequence of my well worn miniature tablet.

Private, Mobile Social Network

MIT Technology Review describe a research effort from Microsoft inspired by the increasing privacy concern in the wake of Facebook’s willful marginalizing of their users’ concerns. Contrail stores all of the information destined for sharing encrypted in the cloud. Everything about it is opt-in rather than the increasingly normal policy of being included in new social network features and having to act to be excluded.

The idea of encrypting user data so an operator couldn’t share their data isn’t new. There are even tools to overlay similar functionality on existing networks. As much as I like the concept, I think it may have unobvious sacrifices in terms of foregoing a certain element of serendipity.

Regardless, I am pleased with the continued interest in alternatives to Facebook. A promising, non-research effort in this vein, Diaspora, just released their one month update. The fact that interested developers have yet to see any code is concerning however that the project is forging ahead rather than petering out after the initial attention dissipated is encouraging. I am optimistic in the face of strong interest in providing better choices beyond the current dominant social network.