All posts in “Software”

Roboticist Gil Weinberg talks about our weird android future

Georgia Tech’s Gil Weinberg has a thing or two to say about interacting with robots. A musician and roboticist, Weinberg has created some of the coolest robots I’ve seen including Shimon, a robot that can play the marimba alongside human musicians. Weinberg learned early on that musicians need visual cues from their bandmates and so Shimon bops along to the beat and can totally its own in a jazz combo.

In this episode of Technotopia we talk to Weinberg about robotics, human interfaces, and, for the briefest of moments, the possibility of sex robots that can play Isaac Hayes. It’s a fun conversation with a cool researcher.

Technotopia is a podcast by John Biggs about a better future. You can subscribe in Stitcher, RSS, or iTunes and listen the MP3 here.

PUBG soft-launches on mobile in Canada with Android release

Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds, the ‘battle royale’ style game where everyone tries to be the last player standing while scrounging for supplies to keep them alive, has launched on Android in Canada MobileSyrup reports, which could presage a future release in the U.S.

The arrival of the mobile version of the game more generally known as PUBG coincides with it reaching the 5 million player milestone on Xbox, where it’s been available since late last year after debuting on the PC in early access earlier in 2017. It’s not cross-play compatible, unlike Fortnite, however, so if you’re playing the Android version you’ll be matched up against others with the app, which is published by Chinese Internet giant Tencent.

This Android port wasn’t developed by original PUBG studio Bluehole, but they say they oversaw the creation of this mobile version. Based on early testing with a Pixel 2 XL, it looks and feels a lot like the original.

PUBG doesn’t have quite the hype of Fortnite right now, since that’s begun a cross-platform play mobile beta and also Drake just played a session with one of the most popular professional esports players in the world. But a mobile version close at hand (and available now, if you’re Canadian) is reason to get excited.

Codementor launches Dev Protocol, which uses blockchain to help developers build their reputations

Dev Protocol is a new project that uses blockchain to give software developers a secure place to build their professional reputations. Created by Codementor, an online mentoring platform and on-demand marketplace for software developers, one of Dev Protocol’s goals is to make the industry a more level playing field.

“You can take it from job to job and we believe it will bring meritocracy to software developers, whether they live in or outside of Silicon Valley,” Weiting Liu, Codementor’s co-founder and chief executive officer. As a founder, Liu has been through Y Combinator and Techstars, but many talented software developers are overlooked for jobs simply because they don’t have well-known organizations listed on their resume.

“If you are a developer working at Google or Facebook and you graduated from Stanford, you probably don’t have this problem because you already have a lot of awesome brand names on your LinkedIn or resume. You are surrounded by other great developers and it’s relatively easy for potential employers to do a solid reference check on you,” says Liu. “But for people who are not as lucky, maybe they aren’t in Silicon Valley, we are enabling great developers in Russia, Madison, Wisconsin, Vancouver or Alberta or in Taiwan, to have a platform for them to earn their reputation fairly and transparently.”

Dev Protocol, which will launch first to members of Codementor’s developer community, is a decentralized reputation and payment protocol, so clients can use it to find references for developers, send payment in escrow to them and then leave reviews once a job is wrapped up. Liu says Codementor, which was founded in 2013, is now the largest live mentoring platform for software developers in the world, with over 300,000 developers in its community and over 9,000 experts who have been vetted by the company and provide one-on-one code review, debugging help, programming tutorials and other guidance. The startup also runs its own freelance hiring marketplace.

“We’ve been spending a lot of time transferring payments and vetting developers, so we realized this is a huge opportunity to realize our vision faster,” Liu says. “We’ve always wanted to build a trustworthy developer network that enables them to help each other out and help clients find developers more easily and securely.”

A decentralized reputation protocol is more trustworthy than other platforms, he adds, because it’s open and transparent. Since it’s decentralized, developers don’t run the risk of losing reviews if they are banned or lose access to any particular platform (which is a risk they face if they get most of their work from a single marketplace). Clients can then send developers’ payment to escrow using Dev Protocol, which protects both of them.

“If there is a dispute for something in software development, it’s much more complicated than a dispute for an e-commerce transaction would be,” Liu says. Dev Protocol enables developers who have built strong reputations to act as arbitrators instead of relying on a centralized third-party (like Codementor, for example) to settle disagreements. “For the clients, this means you can rely on the developer community to protect you from single bad actors in the community. For developers it means no more clients from hell, because in many instances, the client is the side at fault.”

The transparency and security of blockchain means that other companies and researchers have been looking at its potential applications for reputation management, including preventing fake reviews, fraud and identity theft. Startups also building decentralized reputation protocols include Ink Protocol and Monetha, which both focus on e-commerce. Liu says software development should have its own protocol, however, because the industry is large and complicated. Though he’s been asked if Codementor will expand to other verticals, such as design, marketing or sales, for the next few years at least it will focus on serving developers.

“I think it’s definitely possible [to expand], but in the next three to five years, we are essentially doubling down on the developer community,” says Liu. “That’s why it’s called the Dev Protocol instead of, say, the Top Protocol. The plan is to enable other communities and marketplaces to integrate the Dev Protocol as well, after we are the first to integrate it.”

Ecobee’s new voice-powered light switch moves closer to whole-home Alexa


Alexa is already everywhere in a lot of homes, thanks to the affordability and ease of installation/setup of the Echo Dot. But Alexa could become even more seamlessly integrated into your home, if you think about it. And Canadian smart home tech maker ecobee did think about it, which is how they came up with the ecobee Switch+.

Ecobee is probably most known for their connected thermostats, which are one of the strongest competitors out there for Nest. The company’s been building other products, too, however, and developing closer ties with Amazon and its Alexa virtual assistant. The Switch+ has the closest ties yet, since it includes Alexa Voice Service and far-field voice detection microphone arrays to essential put an Echo in your wall wherever you have a light switch handy.

The ecobee Switch+ is still a connected light switch that works like similar offerings from Belkin’s Wemo, too, and offers full compatibility with Alexa, HomeKit and Assistant for remote voice control. But it goes a step further with Alexa, acting not only as the connected home smart device, but also the command center, too.

The Switch+ is now available for pre-order from ecobee and select retail partners including, unsurprisingly, Amazon, in both the U.S. and Canada for a retail price of $99 U.S. or $119 Canadian. It should work with most standard light switches, although not 2-way switches where multiple switches control the same light or lights. In-store availability and shipping starts on March 26.

Tinkerer Jonathan Zufi talks about design and Escape From New York

This week on Technotopia I talked to Jonathan Zufi, creator of the LifeClock One, a replica of the watch worn by Snake Plissken in Escape From New York. Zufi loves design and his insight on what makes something a timeless classic – even when it comes to computer hardware – is fascinating.

Zufi is also the author of Iconic, a book that details Apple products from the earliest days to the latest models. It’s a beautiful book and the photos are amazing. It’s well worth a read if you’re into design, hardware, or Apple.

Technotopia is a podcast by John Biggs about a better future. You can subscribe in Stitcher, RSS, or iTunes and listen the MP3 here.