I’m Leaving The Best Job I’ve Ever Had

The best job I’ve ever had was my pizza delivery job at Pasquale’s. Well, in 2007 that was the best job I’ve ever had. What wasn’t to like?

  • Tips are great.
  • A free meal every shift.
  • Driving a car around is fun.
  • No boss breathing down my neck while I’m out on delivery.

After moving to Florida, I had to find a job fast or else the old bank account might start running backward. So, I thought about what I liked to do. Well, I liked cars. I walked into a Volvo dealership and as it turns out, they were looking for a Porter. If you don’t know what a Porter is, they wash your car and deliver it to the front when it’s done at the dealership. They also generally do a laundry assortment of undesirable tasks no one else wants to do. A “gopher,” so to speak. There was a lot to like:

  • Driving new cars all day.
  • Free lunch on Saturdays.
  • Enjoying the great outdoors for most of the day.
  • Great camaraderie with co-workers.
  • Learned enough dirty and off-color jokes for a lifetime.

After a year, I had gained residency in Florida, which made it much easier to get into UCF and not drown in the out-of-state tuition. At UCF, with a semester under my belt in Film, I started searching for yet another job. Would this be the Best Job Yet?

No. Regal Cinemas, I vow to never upsell popcorn again. This was the Worst Job Ever, and I hope that designation sticks for the rest of my life. Awful hours, especially when we had one car and Sarah would need to pick me up at 2:00 AM after a movie ended. Awful pay, near as makes no difference minimum wage. And a corporate structure that seemed, to me, to be set up entirely to disparage and demean. Yes, my drawer is off by a dollar. No, I don’t think I want a demerit point for that. I quit after a month and a half.

There was not a lot to like.

It took me until 2009 to get a job I enjoyed as much as Pasquale’s, although for wildly different reasons. It was my first office job, a place where cake was served to celebrate July birthdays and Dilbert was pasted up on cubicles. It’s also where I first learned to do web development, finally getting a bite of the forbidden fruit that sparked my insatiable appetite for learning the depths of technology. What wasn’t to like?

  • Free coffee & soda.
  • Dilbert jokes.
  • Great autonomy.
  • I got to stretch my creativity by making videos.
  • Learning web development.
  • Feeling appreciated for the work I’m doing.

By 2012, graduation from UCF was looming and I was not sure if I should stay or go. The economy was still slowly recovering from the recession, so the options didn’t seem to be wide open.

For the best chance for both my now-wife and I to get a job, we wanted to relocate to somewhere with more opportunity. We both interviewed in the Washington, D.C. area to see what kinds of post-graduation professional jobs we could get. With both some software development experience and a radio/television production degree, I applied to both video editing and software development jobs. Thankfully, Ronald Gregory gave me a chance at Interface Media Group to do web development, despite my thin resume in that area. What wasn’t to like?

  • Working in Washington, D.C.
  • Salary position + benefits.
  • Learning C# and strengthening my CSS, HTML, and JavaScript knowledge.
  • Worked on a project that ended up in a Smithsonian museum.
  • Hot chocolate at Pret-A-Manger on the way to work in chilly weather may be the closest thing to heaven on earth.

All was not sunshine and roses, however. After three years of the commute, and the weather in D.C., Sarah and I were ready to move back to Orlando. I wanted to see if I could hang out my shingle. Would this be the Best Entrepreneurship Job yet?

Well, no. After one contract job that went very well, I realized how important the business side was. Relying only on my technical know-how wasn’t going to make that venture successful. I was not filling up the sales funnel while it was draining, so I had no more work lined up after that initial contract. Still, there were some great perks:

  • Set my own schedule.
  • Work from home.
  • Very fulfilling working directly for a client.
  • Great sense of pride for the work accomplished.

But, with no prospects in the pipeline, it was time to find something a little more stable. That’s when I interviewed at Nebbia Technology.

And what a ride it’s been. When I started, we had no permanent office. I started as a fifth to add to the existing four people. Over the course of three and a half years, we got an office, grew to thirteen people, expanded our office, and was acquired by New Signature. We increased revenue and profits in that time by leaps and bounds, not always in a linear fashion. I can’t give enough credit to Chelsea’s tenacity as a head of Business Operations for keeping all of us technical people employed in those early years. And, of course, Esteban’s leadership in shaping the company into something worth acquiring. My own failures in starting a business has given me a lot of respect for those non-technical responsibilities.

Speaking of important non-technical roles, I also can’t thank Hannah Schaffer enough for making our lives so easy in her Operations role, and for shaping the Nebbia brand as Marketing Coordinator. Also, Alyse Hyatt, for coming on board as our Project Manager, and playing a key part in greasing the gears to make it so we could focus on what we do best: delivering.

And, boy have we delivered. I’ve worked with clients who have multi-million line code bases, who are looking for build & release pipelines, to automate, to move to the cloud, to create hiearchical picker extensions for Azure Devops, and who knows what else I can’t remember.

I honestly marvel at how the team is chock full of experts and technical powerhouses, yet there’s nary an ego to be found. A dream team. It will be incredibly hard to leave when I know how easy it is to work with everyone there. Nebbia Alumni include Mikey Cooper, Brian Hall, Clementino De Mendonça, Cliff Chapman, Phil Hagerman, and Jeff Truman. I have appreciated working with every single one of you, and have learned from each of you. The team that I’m leaving now, Facundo Gauna, Justin VanWinkle, Ryan Buchanan, Troy Micka, Chris Ayers; thank you so much. Mostly, for laughing at my horribly punny jokes. But also, for teaching and inspiring me.

Although there is never a “right” time for anything, this feels about as close as I can get. I know I am leaving the team at a time when they are very able to succeed without me. I know with Esteban’s leadership, and the weight of New Signature behind them, they have the capacity to truly change the world.

So to them: go out there and teach ’em that software development doesn’t have to be drudgery. That all the Sev 1 late night all-hands-on-deck anxiety fests don’t need to happen. That the pointing fingers and rolling eyes and feeling stuck and being bored to death in silos can be replaced by celebrations and high fives and talking to users. I’m counting on you, team. Go out there and show ’em.

While it’s difficult to leave the best job I’ve ever had, I’m comforted by the knowledge that I’ve done it before. And each time, the next thing has never quite been what I’ve expected. Every job has managed to teach me something about myself, about what fulfills me, what I’m capable of, and each have given me the experience and confidence to take on the next thing. Now, I’m excited by the prospect that, maybe, the next position I’m taking will also be the best job I’ve ever had.

Stay tuned for next week, when I talk a little bit about what’s next for me.

1,000 Year Old Software

It was only 80 years ago that the first electronic digital computer was built, the Atanasoff-Berry Computer in 1937. And that was the first. Now, computers outnumber humans and the rate of innovation is increasing exponentially. To expect any technology from today to last more than a few decades is foolish. Technology is moving faster and more unpredictably than ever. On top of all that, we are creating technology that is build to be thrown away. The first-generation iPhone, now only ten years old, is but a curiosity. The rapid pace of innovation means that your hand-held wonder-brick you stood in line for is on a two-year upgrade cycle. At five years old, your computer is ready to be tossed. They keyboard I’m typing this on will likely be in a landfill by the time I end this sentence.

Ok, maybe it’s not that bad. But what hope do we have that in a thousand years any software, any line of code, any work that we’ve done today will still be used in any capacity whatsoever?

On a trip to Italy last summer I was astounded at the wonders of the ancient world. The Colosseum was completed in 79 A.D. The Pantheon? Construction started in 27 B.C., over two thousand years ago. These analog stone structures, sitting out in the rain and snow and hail, through generations and wars and changes of religions, are still there. The Pantheon looks like it’s ready for two millennia more. And these structures are huge. The Pantheon’s dome is wider than that of the Capitol dome in D.C.

Twenty-eight of panels like this form a fifteen-foot-high door. Image found at http://tuscantraveler.com

Artists of the renaissance, painters and sculptors, would often start work that would take decades to finish. They often didn’t know if they would see the completed project. I wonder what the likes of Lorenzo Ghiberti, who took twenty-seven years to complete a set of bronze doors for the Florence Baptistery (Battistero di San Giovanni) would think of the concept of a Minimum Viable Product.

Still, there are legends and war stories about pieces of code or whole programs that last. “Good code never dies” is a stalwart tech industry saying, and there are legions of software engineers toiling away on COBOL and Fortran to prove it. A software program used by the DOD is over fifty years old and still going. For all the innovation in computing, some of the same basic principles have remained. Binary, the zeroes and ones represented a first by mechanical methods and later by electrical means, seems to be a sticky concept. It’s an open question as to whether quantum computers, which represent data in several states at once, will usurp the mathematically simple building blocks of binary. Maybe long after that happens, the oldest code of all will live on in one of the Voyager space probes, blinking into existence thousands of years into the future.

Perhaps contemplating the oldest software is a fool’s errand, and we technologists have never been about putting our works behind glass anyway. Preservation has never been our strong suite. We’ve pushed, and pulled, and drug humanity out of the confines of analog and into a dreamy landscape of infinite possibilities. We look forward. These vast ancient structures have not sat in a vacuum, they’ve slowly crumbled and been looted and deteriorated by the sands of time, they’re original purpose put far behind them, they stand as a reminder of who we once were.

The more remarkable feat our fore-bearers did was spread knowledge and progress. We marvel at their works, as they offer markers to indicate what the highest form of our capabilities were at a single point in time. It’s the cultural knowledge that has carried us into modernity. It’s what we’ve learned from them, and their children, and their children’s children that is their true legacy, not bronze and bricks. And our legacy will be the same. It is what we are building right now, the knowledge we are sharing. Our legacy is the outcome of the code we’re writing this very moment in time that is, nudge by nudge, helping shape the world around us to provide a better future.

Those original iPhones have been thrown away, that’s true. The text messages announcing pregnancies, those emails to loved ones thousands of miles away, the inside joke that was shared by two friends in class – that is the legacy of our technology. Although not everything we build creates lasting worth, I would argue we should strive for that. This is our heritage as software developers, not any individual piece of code we protect as it crumbles. It’s the knowledge we share, the code that is used, reused, and modified beyond recognition. The inheritance our software leaves will not be static, it will be alive, and it will stand on the shoulders of giants that stood before.

Those ancient Roman monuments will exist in another thousand years, and we’ll visit them, but we’ll live in a world created by progress.

Rowing Your Own Gears

A computer mouse controlling a gear lever

Sarah, my wonderful wife, best friend, and insightful muse mentioned something in passing that struck me cold.

“You know, it’s funny. You love the idea of autonomous cars, but you insist on driving a stick.”

— Sarah Porcenaluk

She’s right. I insist on driving cars with a manual transmission. To date, we’ve owned seven cars as a family, all with gears you have to row yourself. Why? There used to be a litany of good reasons. Manuals were cheaper to buy, better on gas, cheaper to fix, and you could shift them faster yourself than sluggish, sad, 3-speed automatics. Manuals were the choice of the enthusiast, and us enthusiasts sold them to our more practical partners as cost-savers. But times change.

I grew up on a steady diet of automotive magazines: Car & Driver and Automobile were always on the kitchen table. Classic and Sports Car was a shinier and thicker tome that was held with a bit more reverence, and indeed, didn’t make it into my grimy hands until my father had turned the last page. The anticipation of what lie inside that magazine was a syrupy dopamine hit waiting to happen, the cover taunted me with its promises of tasty mechanical treats just out of reach. They were forbidden fruit, and it made them all the more special. Everything about that particular publication was exotic. It arrived from across the pond, entombed in a plastic shroud. The monetary symbol in ads was the British pound. The cars rarely were of the kind to make it to our shores. Minis, Alpha Romeos, Jaguar D-Types, the really juicy foreign Fords created of fire and brimstone. Fudgy, melty, boring Tauruses they were not. There was nothing that wasn’t special about that magazine. Even something mundane as its weight was different; the heft of each page relative to the disposable American magazines lent unrivaled gravitas.

Sadly, I no longer receive Classic and Sports Car in the mail. However, there are substitutes. For example, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. It comes out in seasons and I never keep tabs on when the next batch will be available. The waiting would drive me insane. When I see the news that another season has dropped, I get a jolt of adrenaline and I always try to pace out the episodes so as to not waste them. Each of those lovely nouns are amazing on their own, but put them together and Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee delivers something of a holy trinity. I watch this nearly exclusively late at night, in the quiet and in the dark, often with a mug of coffee of my own. It’s unadulterated indulgence.

And that’s what each of these things are, these magazines and shows. They are indulgence. They serve no purpose except to stimulate the gray matter between our ears. They don’t move boxes from place to place, or more accurately predict the stock market, or light our footpaths so we don’t trip. If the question is “why,” the answer is that if you don’t know you can’t be human. Entertainment is a hollow word to describe it. It’s for being involved with the human experience, for a feeling, for fostering the niggling bits in our minds that make us want to get out of bed in the morning.

This is why I drive a manual. This is why I refuse to let the machine do the work, even when it’s more convenient, even when it’s economical and easier. Automatics in many modern cars have surpassed manuals in speed and efficiency, and you can list fact after fact about that, but I don’t care. For some silly, stupid, human reason, I love rowing through the gears. I love timing a shift, I love letting out the clutch, I love being in control of and one with the machine I’m traveling in. It makes no logical sense, but the experience wouldn’t be the same without that dumb lever between the seats.

I am afraid we will blindly automate our humanity away.

When we consider the Internet of Things, or artificial intelligence, or machine learning, or any of the other modern marvels that will inevitably make the world faster, better, and stronger, this aspect is what scares me most. That being said, there are deep humanistic desires that when provoked will retaliate all the stronger. When automated cars become commonplace, there will be the few people whose brains itch for speed and control, and while we may be confined to track events, we will express that need. In the meantime, those automated appliance-like cars will be out there saving lives. As long as we all can live in harmony with those two worlds, I’m on board for building the future to be more automated.

I see it as analogous to the change from horse-drawn carriages to automobiles themselves. For the horses, we automated away the tedious jobs. No more pulling plows or buggies, horses now can live out their lives running around in fields and playing polo. We are involved in a world that is changing faster and faster. In ten or twenty years, the job landscape will be dramatically different. Long-haul trucking, many manufacturing plants, and quite a few service jobs will be automated. All the programming code that seems boring or routine will be automated away. Either we will find more interesting things to do, or we will languish in boredom and uselessness.

I hope that we do the former. I hope we, as a species, take this opportunity with which we are presenting ourselves and come out the other side better for it. Let the machines do the inhumane work, and let us humans be as genuinely human as possible. Let’s invent. Let’s create. Let’s foster genuine human interaction. It’s going to be a crazy next few decades, and there’s no end in sight to progress. I wouldn’t want there to be. However, as we march forward let’s not forget about that magazine that comes in the mail and the anticipation we have in reading it. Remember the smell of rich soil turned over by your hand, a flaky croissant coming out of the oven made from your mother’s recipe, or whatever it is that tickles that part of your brain.

Orlando: Poised For Tech (and IoT) Growth

Silicon Valley was born through several contributing factors intersecting, including a skilled STEM research base housed in area universities, plentiful venture capital, and steady U.S. Department of Defense spending. Stanford University leadership was especially important in the valley’s early development. Together these elements formed the basis of its growth and success.

—  Wikipedia

You need three things to start a fire: fuel, heat, and oxygen. In the case of a growth of any industry, the components are much more nebulous. What do you need to start a steel industry? In Pittsburgh, you had access to local coal for refineries. You had the convergence of three rivers and thus a major port. Then the Pennsyvania Railroad happened. At any given point, it could have failed, but through hindsight you see a manifest destiny of sorts. These varied facts built upon each other to make it nearly impossible to imagine Pittsburgh as being anything but a steel town.

And as the quote above notes, there were many factors that led to Silicon Valley’s rapid tech growth over the past three decades. Yet, the things mentioned: STEM research, venture capital, Department of Defense spending, etc., these were just fuel waiting for a spark. As you trace the history up, Fairchild Semiconductor’s shakeup in the late 1960s set the stage for explosive tech growth in the region. As the employees from this one company dispersed, they formed cottage industries that sprouted throughout what was to be known as Silicon Valley. The main outcome that was to be the backbone of growth was Intel. With a one-page business plan (and $2.5 million in funding) they started up, and the rest is history.

I often wonder if I’m in the right place. All the smart money goes to Silicon Valley, so it seems. Over a thousand people graduate from UCF with an Engineering/Computer Science degree yearly, and undoubtedly the best of the best are being picked off by recruiters to sell their souls to the devil and take that six-figure job in California or Seattle. If I sound a little bitter, perhaps I am. I want those people to stay. I want them to see what I see, the growing tech scene in Orlando and the daily job postings in the Orlando Devs’ Slack. I want to show them that if they stay, they can make things better here in their home rather than taking the chances in the hyped boom-bust-boom world of the West Coast.

But then I breathe. After spending three years commuting from Northern Virginia to D.C. I know some of the pros and cons in living in such a “happening” place. The pay is great, the cost is great, and the pace is fast. Well, except when you are sitting in traffic. The lawns are all manicured. You pay a lot of taxes, you pay a lot in rent. Everyone’s car is new, and having fun is going to a vineyard and if you work for a few decades you can afford that boat and can go sailing every weekend. And then you blink and your dead.

Maybe I’m being a little melodramatic, but I did go to college here and my wife and I did move back here for a reason. Life is different down here. If you want a boat, you make do. You get a stand-up paddle board or a kayak, because no one cares. No one is asking how many feet long your boat is or if you got the warranty or what the payments are, because people pretty much don’t care. Maybe we’ll just forgo the whole boat thing and get a cooler, sit on the beach and drink some beers.

And yet, we also work. We think outside the box, but we don’t take it too seriously. We have fun and play. We automate things so we can go back to the beach. It’s not forced. We don’t have suits and ties like the East coast, and we don’t have sweatshirts with our startup’s logo on them like the West Coast. We wear whatever we want, it’s fine. We’re here to get something done, and we’ll dress however we need to. Maybe slacks and some Sperry’s, maybe shorts and a button down shirt. Maybe just a t-shirt and shorts. It’s fine.

I breathe a bit more, because I think that someday those people who left will be back. When and if the startup bubble bursts or slowly deflates, they’ll be back. And even if not, we’re starting to build our own fuel. Florida Polytechnic has over a thousand students and is looking to get accreditation this year. I can comfortably say when that happens, its a matter of time before they are known as the MIT of the South. I hope that in a few decades, MIT is known as the Florida Polytechnic of the North. We have UCF, who’s growth is frankly incredible. And with so many different programs, we’re growing a society here, not just a tech hub. As you may or may not know, Research Park has untold monies flowing through it in Department of Defense dollars. Downtown Orlando is crammed with startups and techy folk just itching to build the next big thing. The Iron Yard and UCF’s Coding Bootcamp is pumping out legions of developers, all little seeds growing and sprouting. The Orlando Tech meetup is growing and expanding, we have the largest tourism industry in the world, we are the destination for many a conference (like Vegas, but we have a lot of substance to back up our style). All of this is fuel, fuel, fuel.

As you might know, I organize the Orlando IoT Meetup (you should sign up if you haven’t already), and my goal with the meetup is to grow IoT development opportunities here in Orlando. The fuel has been growing for a long time, and I’m hoping to make a few sparks in the kindling with the impending growth of the Internet of Things that some say is going to dwarf that of the internet itself.

Source: IHS (https://technology.ihs.com/Services/507528/iot-devices-connectivity-intelligence-service)

I honestly can’t contain my excitement. BRIDG, a $70 million facility built for the advanced manufacturing of sensor technology “like those in smart technology and other Internet of Things-based products” in Osceola is set to open this March. That’s next month, for those who are counting. Graduates of nearby colleges are pouring out with graduates ripe with the seeds of knowledge in hardware and software needed for this arena. I feel like the spark is lit, the match is burning, it just needs to be shielded from the wind so it can ignite the flame. What will be our Intel? What will be our Fairchild Semiconductor?


So what do you think? Is Orlando poised for tech growth? If you think I’m bonkers, send an email to me at jporcenaluk@gmail.com or Tweet at me @jporcenaluk. Heck, reach out to me anyway, I’d love to hear from you.

Review: “Enchanted Objects” by David Rose

David Rose’s “Enchanted Objects” book is a great start for anyone who wants to design IoT devices for, well, people. As IoT design matures, we need to look beyond what’s possible and look more at what is actually going to help our lives. Computers have become so cheap, so small, so fast, and so efficient that we have the ability to make nearly any object “smart.” So what do we decide to make?

David is an MIT instructor and entrepreneur who focuses on “making the physical environment an interface to digital information,”  and he covers a wide range of topics in his book. These topics are broken down into the following sections: the human drives behind what we want out of internet-connected things, how we can shape objects to fulfill those humanistic desires, and what the future looks like in that realm. David helps shepherd readers through the process of coming up with solutions to quite a few problems that speak to humanity’s timeless desires. He focuses not just on what the technology is capable of, but how it can transform our lives in ways we might now perceive as magical.

In the introduction of the book, he gives insight into his worst fears, a nightmare which he calls “Screen World.” In this dystopian future, every one of our beloved objects, our time-tested tools and mementos, are all sucked up into the “black slab.” This black slab is analogous to our modern smartphone on steroids, providing our every whim and desire yet sucking us into it’s cold and unfeeling void. People staring into their phones becomes a reality for everyone, all the time, with no escape.

Throughout the book, he shows a much more positive alternate reality of beloved things gaining additional abilities through the virtue of being connected to the internet and each other. He shows that objects that combine emotional ties and stoic usefulness can become more of both with transformative technology built-in. Our objects all help us out along the way without being disruptive. They are desirable, affordable, and inter-connected. They recede into the background when we don’t need them, and subtly hint when we do. The future he depicts is like a millennial San Franciscan’s Instagram feed: everything is clean, bright, and just messy enough that it feels human. Toward the end of the book, he likens the Internet of Things to electricity: awkward, cumbersome, and even dangerous for the first few years, but slowly it recedes into the background to the point where we don’t really think about it unless we don’t have it.

This proposed future is depressingly possible. What I mean by that is, currently the path we are taking is very different that the one proposed by David. Currently, the status quo is private companies trying to win with different standards and platforms, making it very difficult for internet-connected devices to easily communicate with each other. While much of what David writes relates to a single object’s ability to interact with you, and in that scenario compatibility isn’t an issue, he also indicates that the manifest destiny of the Internet of Things includes systems-level thinking. With information as a sort of currency, things will communicate with each other autonomusly to grease the gears of life as we move through it. We have a lot of work to do if we want to get to that level of interconnectivity. I mean, I’m finding it difficult to get my Alexa, Spotify, and my Phillips Hue lights to play nicely together without some custom solution. I’m not saying we can’t get there, but we need to put a lot of effort in to right the ship. This includes working hard to consolidate on standards.

Nonetheless, I appreciate David’s vision and I do believe we will get there, given enough time. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and whole-heartedly recommend it to anyone who is interested in or works in the IoT industry. We need to make IoT human-centric, and David’s book is a good start for anyone who shares that goal. David, ever the intellectual, examines all of the topics mentioned through an analytical view. Through his broad lens, he pulls influences from all areas of research to form views about what the Internet of Things should look like.

In examining our humanity first, and shaping what the world of IoT could look like around that, he provides a truly exciting peek at what the future could hold.

Can Ubiquitous Computing and Minimalism Coexist?

I was starting to watch a documentary on Netflix called “Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things” when my heart began to sink. What is going on with the world? Are we just robots responding by instinct to shiny, colorful commercials, working ourselves to death to afford things we really don’t even want?

After a few days of introspection, I realized that many of the goals of minimalism (as put forth by “The Minimalists,” the guys behind the documentary) align with my own hopes for the Internet of Things:

  • Reclaim our time
  • Live in the moment
  • Pursue our passions
  • Discover our missions
  • Focus on our health
  • Grow as individuals

There are a few more that don’t necessarily sit perfectly within the Internet of Things, like the goal of “consuming less.” Ultimately, the Internet of Things will help reduce our consumption of electricity and fuel, but at the end of the day you need to buy some sort of sensor and internet-connected device to get those savings.

I’ve also been listening to the book “Enchanted Objects” by David Rose, in which he offers a future that completely aligns with minimalist values. He envisions the current state of the Internet of Things like that of electricity near the turn of the century, it was considered a novelty and many questions were raised. Should we use AC or DC? What voltage should we use? What should the wires be made of and covered with? Can we use over-the-air electricity transmission, or even through the ground? What can we do with it, what should lightbulb filaments be made from, how do we easily add and remove lightbulbs, what should sockets look like?

As we know, we figured these problems out and now you rarely think about electricity. Everything just works.

David Rose imagines that this is the future that ubiquitous computing promises. The Minimalists have no problem plugging in their single phones into the sockets, or turning on their maybe one or two lamps. As time goes by, the “internet” of the “Internet of Things” will recede into the background and just be another part of our lives. Even if you buy less “stuff,” the stuff you do have will still be connected and still enriching your life in ways that now seem like magic. The lightbulbs will know when to come on, and communicate the information you want when you want it. You and your friends can cook together, and the instruction to chop the onions will come as soon as you’ve put the olive oil in the pan.

We’re still in the early stages on the road to that future, but it’s coming all the more. In these early days of IoT, things seem a little awkward. Pulling out your phone to set stuff up, plugging in a few hubs for a few different systems, looking up whether one thing is compatible with another. We will work through these teething pains and come out the other side. That’s the future legacy of ubiquitous computing: the complexity of the machine will be abstracted, and you gain all of the benefits without ever seeing it.

Minimalism and IoT can work together in perfect harmony.

‘Twas The Night Before an IoT Christmas

‘Twas the night before Christmas, in the automated home,
Not a device was stirring, not even one;
Google Home was set by the chimney with care,
Waiting for “Hey Google” to hang in the air;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds;
While visions of Phillips Hues danced in their heads;
And mamma with her Arduino, and I with my Pi,
On Adafruit with accessories in cart ready to buy,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I looked at my Nest Cam to see what was the matter.
Seeing nothing, I asked Alexa in a flash,
“What’s outside, can you open the sash?”
“I’m sorry, I don’t understand…” she sweetly said,
And I realized the word “sash” was outdated and dead.
I manually opened the blinds to take a peek,
And saw a miniature sleigh shiny and sleek,
With no driver, only AI so lively and quick,
Was it a single company making it tick?
No! It was Santa, a hub controlling his tools,
Calling them by name on this evening of Yules,
“Now, Uber! now Volvo! now Mercedes and Google!
On Tesla! on, Toyota! on, Chrysler and Apple!
Get around that pedestrian and avoid that wall!
Now steer away, drive away, avoid any collision at all!
I stared as he flew, and dropped my Pi Zero,
“Wow! Level 5 Autonomy! Santa, my hero!
 Did he use networks of mesh or nets of neural?
Or AWS or Azure or another cloud cure-all?
And then, LEDs twinkling, I saw on the roof,
St. Nick disappear in a smoky electrical poof,
I unlocked my Kwikset Kevo, opened the door,
And came face-to-face with St. Nick. Score!
He was dressed in smart fabrics, from his foot to his head,
His clothes glistened with fiber optics in every thread,
A bundle of sensors he tied into his sack,
Both ancient and modern, from his front to his back,
I wondered—how did it all work? his fabric, so airy!
His systems, secure; his wireless signals didn’t vary!
His sensors were tiny! The power draw? Low!
And everything seemed lit by a magical glow;
I asked outright, “What’s your secret here, Nick,
with no screen to touch, no mouse to click?”
With a deep voice both musical and warm,
“There’s only one secret to this digital swarm,
There’s magic around us, surely you feel it,
That power and connection? It’s the Christmas Spirit!”
By a wink of his eye and a nod of his head,
I realized his meaning, though he left it unsaid.
Any technology, if it’s sufficiently advanced,
Can feel like magic and leave you entranced.
And the Christmas Spirit? I know that, too,
Working together makes IoT dreams come true,
I heard him exclaim while he flew out of sight—
“Happy Christmas to all, your future looks bright!”

Death By 1,000 Subscriptions: Figuring Out The IoT Business Model Of The Future

A path diverges in a wood.
― Robert Frost

The future involves a monthly bill. Microsoft is Office 365, the cloud service with the monthly or yearly fee. Adobe has completely phased out their buy-once use-forever model, favoring a $50-a-month service. Same-same with Quickbooks. TurboTax. Amazon Prime. Netflix. Spotify. Even smaller, more niche software have jumped on the SASS bandwagon. Buffer, a service I use to batch my Twitter activity, is about $10 bucks a month.

Actually, I have subscriptions to all of these services and more. I appreciate that the software evolves over time and the cost-benefit process of deciding to upgrade every year is in the past, instead I just have to decide whether I want to continue paying for the service or not. Also, I understand the proposition from a business perspective: monthly subscriptions are a much more sustainable revenue stream than the boom-or-bust cycle of big yearly releases. Get one or two bum releases and your company falls apart. Alternatively, if you lose a few subscribers from one month to the next, you have a chance to right the ship.

There are some negatives of this new world, though. In the past, one could buy a copy of software that is not so important to them and rarely upgrade – good enough was good enough, and the company got a sale. Now, especially with relatively expensive services like Adobe’s, the casual consumer is being separated away. That user that would upgrade every three or four years rather than yearly is now unable to make that choice.

As we start to connect more and more real devices to the internet, a problem begins to emerge. Those over-the-air upgrades and cloud services are not free, not by a long shot. But nickel-and-diming consumers, wrapping the weight of a new subscription around their ankles every time they add a new device to their network is unsustainable if we want to see the Internet of Things proliferate in the way the regular ol’ Internet did. Heck, all you needed to connect to the Internet was a mailbox and $9.99 a month. The magical AOL fairy would float down and leave a CD in the mailbox if you were a good boy or girl, you shoved it into the LITE-ON CD/DVD+-RW drive and after less than $10 a month, assuming you said no to all the crapware features, and you were surfin’ the web at a screaming 56 kB/s.

Today, if you want to keep a record of what the Nest Cam has been recording, you need to shell out $10 a month. For one service. Not that I blame them, like I said, keeping the lights on, upgrading the software, keeping the servers humming, and making a profit all have costs. But the monthly payment model, in my opinion, is unsustainable past a few devices. As the internet of things grows to dozens and perhaps hundreds of devices humming away in your home, their needs to be another business model. There are other ways, each with their pros and cons, that I’d like to discuss.

BYOS

That is, bring your own service. Nest Cam could, in theory, offer the software and upgrades for free and consumers could run their own copy on their own cloud provider like Microsoft Azure or Amazon AWS. The benefit for consumers would be, if they run services from many vendors on one cloud provider, there’s one cost associated with how much they spend. The benefit from Nest’s perspective would be not needing to run their own cloud services. Or, you could optionally run your own cloud. Consumer choice is good!

Why free updates? Make money from hardware sales, not restricting upgrades. Your bottom line could be affected from security breaches, which in turn could lead to recalls and PR disasters. One big negative for companies is that steady stream of revenue goes away, and another is lack of control over the servers these individuals run. How much liability do they have if a server is never patched? Questions like these have been answered, as I can run Windows Server on any server I please, but that lack of control is a consideration.

The Granddaddy of Services

Think of Spotify or Netflix here. Rather than me paying every single artist for a subscription to their songs, I am able to subscribe to a bunch of different record labels and artists all at once. The Netflix example is the same, but with movies.

A similar deal could arise with IoT. I could pay a single service, let’s call it Spotify IoT because I’m lazy with naming. In turn, they work out deals with IoT companies to measure usage and pay them a fair share of the revenue. The upside is I only have to pay one fee, and I assume Spotify IoT  would have better negotiating power than the average consumer.

The negative here is that Spotify IoT might not work with every company I want to work with (think Taylor Swift), or even if they figure out a way to work with every company providing an IoT service, they could continue to inflate the prices or not fairly compensate the many various IoT vendors.

The Services Dashboard

Instead of a granddaddy service that hides the individual cost of each child service, there could also be a dashboard that taps into the APIs of IoT companies to measure usage, report usage, and allow you a single point-of-entry to monitor and manage all the child services. In distinction from the grandaddy service, this dashboard would not obfuscate the price of each service, and in fact you would still pay each IoT company seperately (even if it was all through the Dashboard).

There would be many individual services, much like now, but you would have a much more manageable way of dealing with them. In addition, this dashboard could provide the ability to turn on and off individual features within each service to more precisely manage your spending. Don’t need that Nest storage for more than day or two? Turn off long term storage and save $3 a month.

The Fog

Fog Computing is the idea that to reduce computing idle time and reduce latency, you can use computing power from computers on your local network (or your neighbors) to off-load compute costs. In theory, you could create IoT devices that offload their compute costs to local devices and only use the cloud to get data from other fog computing devices across the world. There might not be a need for centralized servers, called the cloud, if the number of idle local devices continues to grow.

Having a fully foggy world is an unlikely scenario, however. It’s still very useful to have centralized cloud services, and that will likely remain true for decades to come. While fog computing will play a part in reducing server costs in coming years, it won’t displace cloud as king in the foreseeable future. This is a red herring.

Conclusion

As you can probably tell, there are no easy answers. The future will likely be a confusing mix of these solutions until push comes to shove. I’m counting on there being increased discrete services until SASS fatigue hits critical mass, at which point users will start to really question whether they need that next device to be internet-connected. Soon after, savvy startups will figure out a way to get hundreds of internet-connected things online while offering an attractive cost-to-benefit ratio for consumers.

 

 

 

Internet of Things vs. Ubiquitous Computing vs. Pervasive Computing

What are the differences between ubiquitous computing, pervasive computing, and the Internet of Things? These terms are full of subtleties, but my simplified is simply that the Internet of Things is ubiquitous or pervasive computing in a more limited scope.

Ubiquitous and pervasive computing, which you can think of as pretty much the same thing, is the idea that computers will eventually be so small and cheap that no matter where you are computers will surround you. To get a better idea of what that world might look like, check out MIT’s Project Oxygen.

“In the future, computation will be human-centered. It will be freely available everywhere, like batteries and power sockets, or oxygen in the air we breathe.”
― MIT Project Oxygen

I’d take a small bet that you think this concept is a little absurd. Computers everywhere, like the oxygen in the air we breathe? The imagery conjured up, in my mind at least, includes silicon with heavy metals floating into our lungs. Not good.

But then again, we are not beholden to our past. I’m sure that in the 1964 when Doug Englebart famously created the prototype for the first computer mouse, even he might not have known that the world would adopt his device as one of the primary ways of interacting with computers within just a few decade’s time. In that same year, what is considered the first supercomputer appeared on the scene. The CDC 6600 had a whopping 10 MHz of CPU clock speed. To put that in perspective, it would have to be about 200 times faster to reach the speed of an average modern laptop.

The point is that the world changes. What seems insane today might be reality tomorrow. As long as human ingenuity exists, computers are still likely to get faster, smaller, and cheaper as time goes by. The death of Moore’s Law is inevitable, but with technologies like quantum computing, carbon nano-tubes, and even optical computing on the horizon, there is hope yet to keeping Moore’s Law alive in spirit by doubling the speed of computers every few years. Eventually, we may find wetware computers, or computers built from living neurons, are easy to grow and are built with environmentally-friendly and easy-to-access building blocks. The concept may be weird to us now, but in 1964 we were just getting to the end of the vacuum tube era of computing. Again, the world changes.

So why draw a distinction between IoT and Ubiquitous Computing? Aren’t they the same thing? I believe that the Internet of Things is already here, just in limited scope. We have lights that talk to thermostats that talk to the internet. The popularity of IFTTT is a decent litmus test that indicates we have enough things talking to each other than we can declare that the Internet of Things have arrived, even if the scope is not yet fully realized.

Ubiquitous computing, in contrast, means that computers are everywhere. In our walls, floors, and ceilings, in our desks and windows, in fact, they may cease to become a separate entity to be talked of at all. That’s not an internet-connected wrench, that’s just a wrench. Of course it has a computer in it, of course it talks to the internet, of course it interacts with other objects. Why wouldn’t it? Everything does. That’s just the basic nature of it, as common as paint or pigment.

That is the difference. In one reality, one that already exists, we marvel at the novelty and usefulness of our objects talking to each other. In another, more far-off reality, we take it for granted. Perhaps a small difference in writing but a huge difference in the affect on our lives. The Internet of Things is but a temporary stop on the way to ubiquitous computing.

The Future Has Never Been More Promising and Unpredictable

When I think about the future, often in the realm of technology, I tend to look specifically at computers and even more narrowly the Internet of Things (which is kind of my thing). I read Ars Technica, Tom’s Hardware, and Reddit, and I talk to other developers. Often I see the future through that narrow lens. I see the future in my individual industry coming down the pipe, and announcements seem somewhat predictable.

However, outside of my immediate area of expertise, I’m often surprised to hear about the leaps of progress other industries are making. Sometimes I will stumble on something outside my immediate area of expertise that just blows my mind. Recently, that happened when I came across this video explaining CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats).

The tl;dr is that scientists are able splice together DNA to cut out known bad stuff or put in good stuff, even in full-grown adults. It’s essentially programming living things. Wow! How have I not heard about this before? This should be front-page news!

“That’s great, Jared, but you are a programmer. What does this have to do with you?”

I’m glad you asked, even if it was a bit of a snarky remark. Immediately my mind leaps to what the possibilities are: Well, if you can copy DNA extremely accurately, and that can represent data, can we take advantage of that for storing computer data? Well, of course we can, and we already are. Microsoft and the University of Washington teamed up and stored 200 megabytes of data in the space of the tip of a pencil. The storage technology holds the promise of holding about 1 billion terabytes in a single gram. And this is just the cross-roads of DNA and data storage, there are many multidisciplinary approaches to technology that are happening (and should happen more and more, in this author’s view) across the world.

There are so many pieces of technology other than computing that are making progress faster than ever before: Agriculture, education, machinery, nanotechnology, energy, transport, mining, and healthcare. What is happening in these spaces that will affect us all in only a few years? What revolutionary tech is coming online or just about to? It’s mind-boggling.

Knowledge transfer across domains goes the other way, too. Computing improvements can affect healthcare in big ways. Take, for example, protein folding. Unfortunately, classical computers are very bad at doing this. A project called Folding@Home has helped alleviate that problem by harnessing the power of many, many computers (104,000 teraflops of computing power across the world) to figure out how proteins fold. The ultimate goal is to help cure diseases like Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, and Parkinson’s. Although progress has been made in studying this that would not have been made otherwise, quantum computers have shown significant promise in being able to solve problems like these at speeds that would put all of those harnessed computers to shame. That happens when you can calculate millions of possibilities at the same time, as is quantum computer’s strength. Once quantum computers become more powerful and consistent, and once we figure out better ways to program them, all of Folding@Home’s progress to date could be made in days or hours on just one quantum machine.

These types of interrelationships between technologies (in this case, protein folding and quantum computers) supercharge our advances toward the future. Nothing happens in a vacuum, so a small leap in any one technology can dramatically affect the progress of another. As the excellent In a Nutshell video above explains, imagine the impact that just one technology, the internet, has had on nearly every single piece of our lives. Right now, there are thousands of potentially game-changing technologies in the pipeline. As they come out of research facilities, there will be unimaginable ripple effects.

Worker Productivity Over Time
Chart found in afx114’s PhotoBucket, no idea who the author is. Happy to give a credit where credit is due if you know who made it.

What’s really cool is that these affects are logarithmic in nature. The better a technology gets, the better it makes other technologies. And upward and upward we go in productivity (which is just one, albeit poor, indication of progress) and other indications of progress, faster and faster. With all of the unknown unknowns and the rapid pace of change, the future has never been as unpredictable, or as exciting, or as promising, as it is right now.