Internet Fridge: Living the Dream

Forget flying cars; the Internet fridge is the future and has been for fifty years.

Last year there was a lot of fuss over the 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon landings, but 1969 was also the year of the Honeywell H316 Pedestal Kitchen Computer.

The Apollo Guidance Computer was celebrated, with its source code released on GitHub and a training course on Pluralsight. All this despite selling only eleven copies.

The H316 was much more practical, used for storing recipes rather than landing on the moon, which hardly anyone needs to do. The AGC’s users were military test pilots with years of training; a ’60s domestic goddess could learn to add recipes to the H316 in just two weeks. The kitchen computer cost only $10,000 — $399,999,990,000 cheaper than the Apollo project.

Even with all these advantages, the H316 Pedestal sold eleven fewer copies than the Apollo Guidance Computer.

In 1969, landing on the moon was real. Having a computer full of recipes in the kitchen was a pipe-dream. Today, we no longer have the technology to get to the moon but the dream of the kitchen computer is within reach!

Smart is Dumb

The H316 sold zero units and most recent efforts deserve the same fate. Internet fridges appear regularly on @internetofshit’s Twitter feed. Peak Internet fridge was reached in 2016, a moment documented on Tumblr by Fuck Yeah, Internet Fridge.

If your dumb fridge is cluttered with drawings from kindergarten that don’t fit your fancy decor, a smart fridge with Google Calendar on it may seem like the answer – until Google changes their API and Samsung doesn’t update the fridge. Like your kid’s finger painting, it won’t be very good but you’ll feel bad throwing it away.

Smart fridges come with all the normal problems of internet-connected devices: buggy, outdated software; susceptibility to hijack by Russian mafiya botnets, the constant need to turn them off and turn them back on again. All this combined with the serious expense of a major household item.

For $6,000 you get a screen on the front of the fridge that saves you from opening the door. For an extra $20 you can get the App Enabled Smart Egg Tray and check how many eggs you’ve got while you’re on the bus.

The Internet fridge remains the North Star of the connected home, but so far it only solves problems that don’t exist. No one’s come up with a good reason to own such a whizzbang gizmo.

How Many Bulldozers Does It Take To Change a Lightbulb?

The reason internet fridges are a bad idea was explained by Stewart Brand in 1994, the same year I found out what the internet was.

His book, How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They’re Built, popularised the idea of “shearing layers”.

Buildings have parts that change at different rates. The site is permanent. The structural parts of buildings last from decades to centuries. The roof and cladding may last a few decades; wiring and plumbing something similar. The layout changes more often, and the “stuff” in the building changes constantly.

In a good building, the layers that change more frequently can be changed without tearing apart the other layers. In other words, you don’t need to bulldoze your house every time you change a lightbulb.

The specific application to buildings can be sheared away from this story, leaving Brand’s core idea of layers that change at different rates – which brings us back to internet fridges.

Fridges are great. The internet is great. Internet fridges are stupid. The reason is that the fridge layer, which should last 20 years, is strongly coupled to the crappy-Android-tablet layer, which will last two years. I bought my fridge in 2006 and it still works perfectly. If it had the PC I bought in 2006 bolted to the front of it, I would cry a little bit every time I got a beer.

What we need is a shearing layer. In software I would define an interface. A fridge’s interface is a big steel door and the clients of that interface are fridge magnets.

The $100 Internet Fridge

Snarky articles note that instead of spending $6,000 on something that will only last two years, you’d be better off nailing an iPad to your fridge. So I did almost that.

I bought a cheap Android tablet, glued some fridge magnets to the back and stuck that on my fridge. Having spent just $100 on it, I can use it without guilt for trivial tasks like timing eggs. No need to add pointless features like push notifications when the pesto hits its use-by date.

I can also write my own software for it, living the dream of the original 1969 kitchen computer, having an electronic brain full of recipes just where I need it.

In the next part, I’ll start on the software…

3D Blazor with Babylon

Babylon is a good choice for 3D graphics on the web. Anything that you can do in JavaScript you can do in Blazor, so I’m going to put some 3D in my web app using C#.

First, I’m going to create a Babylon component that I can drop onto a Blazor page and then I’m going to see if I can shift all the Babylon manipulation up from Javascript into C# with a full Babylon interop layer.

Continue reading “3D Blazor with Babylon”

How to Build a CORS Proxy for Client-side Blazor

Blazor is a godsend for C# developers who want to build web applications. I’ve found building web apps in Blazor quick and easy, but there are a couple of fish-hooks that could catch you out. CORS is one.

I had a server-side app that was working fine. Turning a server-side Blazor app into a client-side Blazor app is mostly painless, but this time nothing worked.

The app was making a call to an API but from the client-side version of the app, all the calls failed. They’d been blocked by the browser’s CORS policy.

The answer was to build a CORS proxy. Here’s what I did.

Continue reading “How to Build a CORS Proxy for Client-side Blazor”

A Fishy Tale

When I first arrived in New Zealand I was told a story – the story that the North Island was actually a giant fish. The story turned out to be slightly true.

AFishyTale01Title

Maui, a Polynesian demi-god and his brothers went fishing and Maui took them further out into the ocean than they’d ever been. He cast his line into the sea and in the murky depths it hooked on something. Something big.

AFishyTale02MauiWaka
Maui and his brothers, from Maui and other Maori Legends by Peter Gossage

Continue reading “A Fishy Tale”

Pulling in Readers, Ferociously

Venkatesh Rao’s essay Gradatim Ferociter opens with this magnetic paragraph:
One of my favorite phrases is gradatim ferociter, the motto of Blue Origin. It means “step by step, ferociously.” The phrase helped me figure out why, despite really liking Nassim Taleb’s idea of antifragility, I’ve always found it kinda depressing. The idea seems to miss a major point: growth and innovation are processes that involve necessary fragility in proportion to how fast you want to move …
Every sentence is interesting. It fires a question in my mind and then answers it.
One of my favorite phrases is gradatim ferociter
What does “gradatim ferociter” mean?
It means “step by step, ferociously.”
Why is it one of your favourite phrases?
The phrase helped me figure out why, despite really liking Nassim Taleb’s idea of antifragility, I’ve always found it kinda depressing.
Depressing? Why?
The idea seems to miss a major point:
What does it miss?
growth and innovation are processes that involve necessary fragility in proportion to how fast you want to move
Venkat has given my reading the momentum needed to read the whole thing. Every sentence has an impetus that’s hard to resist.

Virgin on Disaster

From the archives: This article was first published in The Free Radical in 2003. The Virgin Cove resort was wrecked in the 2009 Samoan tsunami but the disaster I wrote about here was entirely man-made.

FaleNo6VirginCove.jpg

Our driver (also our cook), his kitchen-hand, and the petrol station attendant were all crouched in a pool of petrol, poking and pointing up behind the back wheel arch of our Isuzu four-wheel drive. The aim was to discover why we had flooded the station forecourt while trying to fill the tank. Continue reading “Virgin on Disaster”

CONTRAST !!

As a trainer you want your training to be remembered. Otherwise, what’s the point?

The trouble is, most training – especially technical training – is presented in the least memorable way possible. Technical training is often a long slog through a list of features. I can’t remember my shopping list. How am I supposed to remember a four-hour list of technical details?

I was in a training session recently for a company that was shifting their email from Outlook to GMail. The trainer was knowledgeable and helpful – she was able and willing to answer everyone’s questions – but I can’t remember any of the training.

We started on the left-hand side of the screen and trudged our way through each of the menus: “General”, “Label”, “Inbox”, “Accounts”, “broccoli”, “mustard”, “sour cream”. No, wait, that was another list.

GmailTraining.png

What did I get out of that training? Well, I know that you can change the background colour of your emails.

Monotony and lists create inattention and boredom. How can you make your training memorable and compelling?

With CONTRAST!!

Contrast.png

Let’s see how… Continue reading “CONTRAST !!”

Stuxnet v2.0

Modern warfare looks nothing like the industrial-age warfare of World War II. I covered this in The Laptop Luftwaffe, a post I wrote comparing the sabotage of the Iranian nuclear programme ten years ago with the sabotage of the Nazi atom bomb project in the 1940s.

Iran’s nuclear programme isn’t the only cyber-warfare target. The country’s missile programme is also a target.[1] This week President Trump posted a tweet taunting Iran for a missile launch failure.[2] The tweet included a detailed photograph of the damaged launch pad taken from a highly classified Keyhole-11 spy satellite.[3]

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This attack on the Iranian ballistic missile programme invites the same sort of comparisons as the sabotage of the nuclear programme.

The world’s first ballistic missile was Nazi Germany’s A-4/V-2 rocket programme, run from the research station at Peenemünde on Germany’s Baltic coast.

V2.png

The first V-2 to hit London arrived without warning on the 8th September 1944, killing three people in Chiswick.[4] The second hit a minute later, twenty-five miles away outside Epping. The raids continued for seven months.

There would have a been many more attacks and many more deaths had it not been for a massive raid on the Peenemünde works on the night of the 17th August 1943. The rocket works was considered such an important target that Air Chief Marshall Sir Arthur “Bomber” Harris committed a massive force of nearly six hundred bombers to a dangerous moonlit raid. Forty bombers were lost that night – shot down or crashed – and 245 crew were killed. On the ground, many were killed, including five hundred foreign prisoners working as forced labour.

The raid was judged as success, setting back the Nazi missile programme by months, saving unknown lives in London and, later, in newly liberated parts of France and the Netherlands. The setbacks also ensured that the missiles weren’t ready at the time of the D-Day Normandy landings.

That success came with a heavy loss of life, both in Allied air crew and people on the ground. It’s obvious why the option of a cyber-attack, now that it exists, is preferable.

As I’ve said previously:[5]

The ghostly stealth of a self-replicating software worm could not be more different to the noise, smoke, and violence of an air raid and yet, six decades apart, the results were similar. What used to take an air force is now silent, invisible, and fits in your pocket.

References

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/13/us/politics/iran-missile-launch-failures.html
[2] https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1167493371973255170
[3] https://sattrackcam.blogspot.com/2019/09/image-from-trump-tweet-identified-as.html
[4] (Middlebrook, 1982)
[5] https://darnton.co.nz/2019/06/09/the-laptop-luftwaffe/

Bibliography

Middlebrook, M. (1982). The Peenemünde Raid. London: Allen Lane.