Monday, August 20, 2012

Massive Linked-In FAIL! BEWARE to users.

I don't normally post negative reviews about products and services.  I generally try to celebrate the things I really enjoy and share that with others.  But, I had an astoundingly destructive experience with Linked-In this morning.

I received a Linked-In invite from an old colleague and decided to see who else had sent me an invitation that I might have neglected. I don't use Linked-In very much, but it's good to have a memory aid for colleagues I've worked with. After about 20 minutes of browsing and seeing which people have found new jobs (or been promoted in their old ones). I noticed that in my email stream were notifications of people accepting my invitations. I had only sent out about 5 invitations during my browsing session, and none of these notifications were from the people I had manually invited.

After about a dozen acceptance notifications from people I didn't recognized, I checked the Linked-In website and the "sent invitations" tab. Apparently, Linked-In automatically sent out nearly 1000 invitations on my behalf! See the screenshot below of my inbox flooded with accepted invites:

This continues on for several pages. I don't know exactly by what criteria this bug decided to send out 1000 invites. Perhaps it was everyone in the network of every profile I looked at this morning. Regardless, this was a major failure of this social network for me. I'm not even sure it's physically possible to send out 1000 invites in 20 minutes. And of course, there's no way to easily withdraw 1000 invitations in the UI. After about 15 minutes of trying to figure out what went wrong, emailing support, and trying to manually retract invites to people I didn't know.... I gave up.

Generally, I think Linked-In is a good service. However, this bug is castrophic for preserving any sense of professional meaning in the social network. It has caused A LOT of confusion for me and several other people, not counting the annoyance of spamming people on both sides. It's not the end of the world to be over-connected to people I may have briefly met directly, indirectly, saw me give a talk, or merely know of me. In fact, it's rather flattering that so many people accepted my invitations. I'm now connected to some people I perhaps should have sent invitations to, but the net was cast EXTREMELY wide and it has diluted the distinguishing value of Linked-In to nearly zero.

If you really care about the discretion of your Linked-In activity, BEWARE, this bug might hit you too and Linked-In might cause you to spam 1000 people, just like me.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Technology and Art in Perfect Balance

I'm currently in LA for Siggraph 2012, which is the leading conference for computer graphics - but the community here includes artists, animators, modelers, movie studios, games studios, camera and display technologies.  It's always a treat.  While, there were definitely many interesting projects from the technical program (too many to enumerate here, like this, this, thisthis, this and many more).

One piece that I really enjoyed seeing is a new animated short from Disney called "Paperman".  It is planned to be shown at the beginning of Wreck-It-Ralph, so you'll get a chance to see it as well.

The reason I enjoyed it so much because it is a prefect balance of technology and art fusing hand drawn animation, CG graphics, and a great story.  I watched some of the production talk about how it was created.  The most enjoyable part of the talk was hearing about the interaction between the 2D hand drawing artists and the CG team - in particular how much they mutually respected each other and how humbled they were by what each side brought to the table.  Often projects are too heavily weighted toward one side: either too focused on raw technology without a soul or too focused on the artistic concept without interesting execution.  When you get a chance to witness the balance of both, the results are remarkable.  "Paperman" is such an example.

I have a tremendous respect for the creative people I have encountered in my life, and make a conscious effort to expose myself to environments with people of vastly different skills and interests.  I often run ideas that are extremely technical in nature past people who know nothing about technology, because I have often been surprised by the answer.  At the very least, I get a little bit of practice trying to covey a complicated concept to someone who may have no domain knowledge and how it might affect ideas they care about - a very underrated skill, and not something taught in school.

So, whether you consider yourself an engineer or an artist, I encourage you to make a friend on the other side of campus.  Your perspective on the world, the ideas you'll have, and the work you do will be better for it.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Curiosity has landed.

Congratulations, to everyone at NASA, JPL, and anyone else who may have been involved.  It couldn't have gone anymore smoothly.  High res images within minutes of landing.  Amazing.  I am in awe.

If you have not seen it.  the description of the landing:

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Brave New World

3D printed lower receiver for an AR-15 assault rifle.
This is the only legally regulated component of the weapon.

It's hard not to like 3D printing. It allows you to transform nearly any 3D form you can draw on the computer into a physical object with a mere push of a button - literally. It also implies a completely alternative way goods might be delivered to consumers, manufactured, or customized to each individual. When your inventory and shipping costs are zero, and your manufacturing volume for any particular model is 1, many traditional assumptions about the economics of manufacturing are no longer valid.

I have no shortage of enthusiasm for that vision. But, there are some significant challenges to overcome before this will become a dominate way people purchase products. So, this transition will not likely occur very quickly. However, I do watch the space of 3D printing and CNC fabrication with fascination, trying to understand where/when it will have dramatic effects on the manufacture of consumer goods. The object pictured above is a startling example, and may have a significant impact on the public discourse of tools like consumer 3D printing.

It is a 3D printed lower receiver for an AR-15 assault rifle based on the original file on Thingiverse. The version I printed is modified so it can print in two pieces on the smaller bed of my printer and has been made intentionally non-functional.  But, this person printed one, assembled the full weapon, and successfully tested it with real ammunition. Apparently, fairly little stress is placed on the lower receiver during firing with most of the energy contained by the metal chambers of the upper receiver.

I find this object fascinating.

The lower receiver is the only component of the AR-15 assault rifle that is regulated by federal law as a "gun".  If you disassemble a gun, it has many parts.  Each part alone is quite harmless, such as the barrel, the grip, the magazine, the shoulder stock.  So, which of the many parts actually constitutes the "gun" and is illegal to sell without a license?  the lower receiver - which is like the body frame that holds all the parts together.   Every other component you can legally purchase online and have mailed directly to your door step, no background check, no registration.  But without the lower receiver, the gun would just fall apart and never be able to fire a round.  This is the one part that is illegal to sell without a license, should have a serial number on it, and be registered according to local, state, and federal law.

What happens when the one part of the gun that is so intensely regulated, monitored, and the subject of so much national debate and law-enforcement man power, can simply be downloaded off the internet and printed?  An individual sitting in front of a computer, can legally order all of the components of an AR-15 (except the lower receiver), order a 3D printer, download a file, push a button, and within a few hours assemble a fully operational unregistered assault rifle in broad daylight without having to resort to illicit or underground suppliers. What happens if they print 10 of them? 100?   While it is definitely illegal to sell the parts without a license, the laws regarding home-built weapons for personal use are much less clear and may vary by locality - so, it is your responsibility to check with your local and state laws before you consider printing one of these.

As with any new technology, it can be used for good as well as evil.  This is no different here and is not very surprising.  However, what fascinates me is that this little piece of plastic, which was so trivial to make using a 3D printer, completely undermines centuries of debate, and fighting, and lobbying surrounding gun control regulation.  In my opinion, this a radical example how technology changes faster than our social and political culture can adapt.  As the quality of tools like 3D printing gradually mature and become common place and these models are improved, this tension will only increase.  These are interesting times.