Microsoft pushes HomeOS further with Lab of Things, but where’s the mobile angle? — Tech News and Analysis

Microsoft has launched what it calls its Lab of Things, a cloud-based framework that links to the company’s HomeOS, which monitors and controls connected devices inside home environments. The Lab of Things arrived Monday at the Microsoft Research event, and apparently HomeOS has been around for a while. A quick trip through the Microsoft research page shows examples of the HomeOS efforts going as far back as 2010 and a big media push from last spring.
But in digging into HomeOS and the Lab of Things news today, I’m struck by how odd Microsoft’s vision seems to be with regard to the connected home. For example, Microsoft’s HomeOS vision centers around a home PC (it can be a netbook or a laptop) that the devices talk to — something that seems more at home in 2003 than in 2013. However, Lab of Things looks like part of an evolution to that disparity, by tying the HomeOS to Microsoft’s Azure cloud.
From the documentation around the Lab of Things:

Lab of Things is a shared infrastructure designed to help researchers develop and evaluate technologies in the home environment. Lab of Things provides a common framework to write applications and has a set of capabilities beneficial to field deployments including logging application data from houses in cloud storage, remote monitoring of system health, and remote updating of applications if needed (e.g. to change to a new phase of the study by enabling new software, or to fix bugs).

Microsoft’s HomeOS supports Z-wave devices as well as sensors built using Microsoft’s Gadgeteer hardware. Since this is a research-oriented project, the idea is pitched to academics who want to try to set up connected home environments. They use the HomeOS and Lab of Things to set up the connected devices on a home network (in this case the laptop running HomeOS is akin to any number of hubs out there on the market) and then tell the devices what they want them to do.
Read more @ GigaOm.

Bruce Lawson’s personal site  : Save bandwidth with webP – soon with fallback!

A long time ago, “responsive” didn’t mean “resize your browser window repeatedly while fellow designers orgasm until they resemble a moleskin atop a puddle”. It simply meant “Reacting quickly and positively”, meaning that the page loaded fast and you could interact with it immediately.

One way to do this is to reduce the weight of the page by serving images that have a smaller file-size, thereby consuming less bandwidth and taking less time to download a page. In the last year, web pages download approximately the same number of images, but their total size has increased from about 600K to 812K, making images about 60% of the total page size.

One way to reduce this amount is to encode images in a new(ish) format called webP. It’s developed by Google and is basically a still version of their webM video codec. Google says

WebP is a new image format that provides lossless and lossy compression for images on the web. WebP lossless images are 26% smaller in size compared to PNGs. WebP lossy images are 25-34% smaller in size compared to JPEG images at equivalent SSIM index. WebP supports lossless transparency (also known as alpha channel) with just 22% additional bytes. Transparency is also supported with lossy compression and typically provides 3x smaller file sizes compared to PNG when lossy compression is acceptable for the red/green/blue color channels.

Opera uses it precisely for this compression; it’s used in Opera Turbo, which can be enabled in Opera desktop, Opera Mobile and the Chromium-based Yandex browser. This transcodes images on-the-fly to webP before squirting them down the wire and, on slower connections, it’s still faster.

In tests, Yoav Weiss reported that “Using WebP would increase the savings to 61% of image data”.

WebP is currently supported only in Opera (Presto), Google Chrome, Yandex and Android Browser on Ice Cream Sandwich, which makes it difficult to deploy on the Web. new confidence about technologies in the VP8 video codec on which it’s based might make them feel better about it?)

However, there’s some handy new CSS coming to the rescue soon (when browser vendors implement it). We’ve long been able to specify CSS background images using background-image: url(foo.png);, but now say hello to CSS Image Values and Replaced Content Module Level 4′s Image Fallbacks, which uses this syntax:

background-image: image("wavy.webp", "wavy.png", "wavy.gif");

(Note image rather than url before the list of images.)

The spec says “Multiple ‘image -srcs’ can be given separated by commas, in which case the function represents the first image that’s not an invalid image.”

Simply: go through the list of images and grab the first you can use. If it 404s, continue going through the list until you find one you can use. Note that this isn’t supported anywhere yet, but I hope to see it soon.

Read more @ Bruce Lawson’s personal site.

Reflection in PHP | Nettuts+

Reflection is generally defined as a program’s ability to inspect itself and modify its logic at execution time. In less technical terms, reflection is asking an object to tell you about its properties and methods, and altering those members (even private ones). In this lesson, we’ll dig into how this is accomplished, and when it might prove useful.

A Little History

At the dawn of the age of programming, there was the assembly language. A program written in assembly resides on physical registers inside the computer. Its composition, methods and values could be inspected at any time by reading the registers. Even more, you could alter the program while it was running by simply modifying those registers. It required some intimate knowledge about the running program, but it was inherently reflective.

As higher-level programming languages (like C) came along, this reflectivity faded and disappeared. It was later re-introduced with object-oriented programming.

Today, most programming languages can use reflection. Statically typed languages, such as Java, have little to no problems with reflection. What I find interesting, however, is that any dynamically-typed language (like PHP or Ruby) is heavily based on reflection. Without the concept of reflection, duck-typing would most likely be impossible to implement. When you send one object to another (a parameter, for example), the receiving object has no way of knowing the structure and type of that object. All it can do is use reflection to identify the methods that can and cannot be called on the received object.

Read the full article @ Nettuts+.

Girl Scouts Chapter Introduces Game Design Merit Badge

The Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles have introduced a Game Design merit badge to help encourage its members to get interested in a variety of science and technology fields.


The L.A. Girl Scouts chapter partnered with the Women in Games International organization to create a curriculum for the patch. Girls will be required to program their games as well as design them, using software called Gamestar Mechanic.

The Boy Scouts of America introduced a Game Design merit badge last month, but it does not include the programming requirement.

The Girl Scouts’ version hasn’t been approved by the national organization yet, thus it is only available to Girl Scouts in the Los Angeles chapter. According to NBC News, it’s designed for girls in 4th to 6th grade.

The games industry has recently been more aware of the gender discrepancies in its ranks. A few months ago game creators took to hashtag #1reasonwhy to talk about reasons the industry doesn’t employ enough women, uncovering issues like sexism in some workplaces. A game design merit badge could certainly be one way to get more young women interested in programming and creating games as a career.

Girl Scouts Chapter Introduces Game Design Merit Badge.

TechCrunch: Microsoft Makes 1,000 Windows 8 Quickstart Kits Available To iOS Developers: $25 For Win 8 Pro & Parallels For Mac

Two weeks ago, Microsoft launched its Windows 8 Quickstart kits for web developers who want to test their web apps on Internet Explorer 10 and Windows 8 on their Macs. That offer sold out very quickly, but today, Microsoft announced that it is making another 1,000 of these kits available on Swish, with 10,000 more coming throughout the rest of the year.

The offer will go live at 2:30 p.m. PT today. Until then, it’s only available to DEMO attendees.

For just a $25 donation to either code.orgKhan Academy or, as well as $8 in shipping costs, these developers will get a copy of Windows 8 Professional, Parallels Desktop 8 for Mac, and “iOS to Windows porting support from top engineers.” The kits are scheduled to ship in early June.

The focus this time is on iOS developers, and anybody who wants to get one of these kits will have 60 seconds to get past a number of multiple-choice questions to prove that they are indeed developers. To get this offer, you will have to show that you know your way around UIView, UIViewController and similar topics that iOS developers are likely intimately familiar with. Last time, the offer and puzzle were geared toward web developers and was relatively easy to solve.

For now, just 1,000 of these kits are available, but Microsoft says it plans to make about 10,000 available at various app builder events in the U.S. and international dev camps throughout the year.

As Microsoft notes, the company is extending this offer because it wants iOS developers to “get started creating your own apps for Windows Store.”

Source: TechCrunch

AnandTech: Google Announces Glass Specs, Developer SDK, Shipment to Glass Explorers in Waves

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Google dropped a bunch of Glass related news today. First up are some high level specifications which posted in an FAQ document. There’s still no word about SoC or platform beyond the rumors we’ve heard in the past that Glass is like a WiFi-only Galaxy Nexus. This is the first time we’ve seen official disclosure of some level of specifications however. From the spec page we get the following, which I’ve put in a table.

Google Glass Specs
Google Glass
SoC Unknown
Display 640×360 “Equivalent of a 25 inch high definition screen from eight feet away”
Camera 5 MP forward facing, with 720p video
Audio Bone Conduction Transducer
Connectivity 802.11b/g WiFi, Bluetooth
Storage 16 GB NAND total, 12 GB free
Battery Unknown mAh, “1 full day of typical use”
I/O microUSB
Requirements Android 4.0.3 or Higher with My Glass app

Google is very light on detail here, and doesn’t give resolution directly although it’s obvious looking at the UI Guidelines from the SDK that 640×360 is the native resolution of the projection system. There’s no explicit callout of what SoC is inside (although OMAP4 continues to be a persistent rumor) or battery size in milliamp hours or watt-hours. In addition we see the inclusion of 802.11b/g and no 802.11n, which is a bit curious, although I suspect most of the time Google Glass will be tethered to a smartphone over Bluetooth for connectivity with the companion application. Google also released the Mirror API documentation and a few sample applications alongside.

Read the full article @ AnandTech

SlashGear: Dropbox revamps its Chooser feature to include multi-select and built-in uploads

Dropbox has just overhauled its Dropbox Chooser feature to allow developers to implement even more features into their web apps. The new Dropbox Chooser now allows developers to implement the multi-select and built-in uploads features into their APIs. The multi-select feature allows users who use the developer’s app to accept multiple files from Dropbox all at once. The built-in uploads option allows users to upload files, either through drag-n-drop or by browsing their folders, directly from their computer to their Dropbox account. Their files will be available immediately through the developer’s web apps.

Another new change to Chooser is the change to its user interface. It now features an improved design that shows off stylish new threads, making the user interface much more friendly. The best part is that developers aren’t required to adjust their codes to implement the new design, or any future designs, because new designs will be updated automatically in their web apps.


Dropbox Chooser allows developers to integrate Dropbox directly into their web apps, and with ease. All the developer needs to do is add a few lines of HTML. Previously, Chooser didn’t have many options to choose. It was limited to basic Dropbox features including searching through files, browsing through photo galleries, and sharing files. These new features are a welcomed addition, and Dropbox says that there will be “a lot more coming soon!”

Source: SlashGear

Xen Moving To The Linux Foundation | TechCrunch

The Xen project celebrates its 10th anniversary this week. It’s also moving to a new home at The Linux Foundation as a Collaborative Project. Just like the Linux kernel, Xen enjoys contributions from a variety of different companies, so a vendor-neutral organization to host development and collaboration is a big win for the project.

Although KVM has garnered a lot of attention lately, Xen is still more widely deployed and used. After all, it serves as the underpinnings for all of Amazon Web Services’ EC2 virtualization. It’s also used by Cisco, Citrix, Google, and a host of other companies. Recent developments in Xen have come from organizations as diverse as the U.S. National Security Agency, SUSE Linux, Oracle, and Intel.

“The open source model is predicated upon freedom of choice, so supporting a range of open source virtualization platforms and facilitating collaboration across open source communities is a priority for The Linux Foundation,” wrote Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation, in a blog post. “The market has proven there is opportunity for more than one way to enable virtualization in Linux, and both KVM and Xen have their own merits for different use cases.”

Xen Moving To The Linux Foundation | TechCrunch.

Timeline designer Nicholas Felton leaves Facebook as Home for Android launches | The Verge

Two years after joining Facebook, designer Nicholas Felton is leaving the company. In aFacebook post yesterday, Felton said he was “extremely proud of the projects I worked on” and called his time at Facebook a high point in his career, but that he would be “moving on” and returning to New York. Felton is best known for working on the Facebook Timeline, a major overhaul that gave profile pages a new look and a new way of organizing information. He leaves just as Facebook introduces another new tool: Home, an Android launcher that makes Facebook posts and messaging central to a phone’s user interface.

Felton’s plans for the moment are unknown, but he has a long pre-Facebook history. His widely read Personal Annual Reports, a chart from which is shown above, collect details captured by relentless lifelogging, creating a revealing portrait of himself. Those reports would later be credited as an influence on Timeline. He’s also seen his brand of life-tracking and analytics become more popular; last year, he described his desire to put his data in context now that “half my friends are wearing FitBits.”

Source: The Verge.