As someone who’s been deep in high technology for the better part of 2 decades it’s been interesting to watch the dissemination of technology from the annals of my brethren down to the level of the every day consumer. For the most part its a slow process as many of the technological revolutions that are unleashed onto the mass markets have usually been available for quite some time for those with the inclination to live on the cutting edge. Companies like Apple are prime examples of this, releasing products that are often technically inferior but offer that technology in such a way as to be accessible to anyone. Undoubtedly the best example of this is their iPhone which arguably spawned the smart phone revolution that is still thundering along.
When it was first released the iPhone wasn’t really anything special. It didn’t support third party applications, couldn’t send or receive MMS and even lacked some of the most critical functionality of a smart phone like cut and paste. For those brandishing their Windows Mobile 6.5 devices the idea of switching to it was laughable but they weren’t the target consumer. No Apple had their eye on the same market that Nintendo did when they released the Wii console: the people who traditionally didn’t buy their product. This transformed the product into a mass market success and was the first steps for Apple in developing their iOS ecosystem.
With the beachhead firmly established this paved the way for other players like Google to branch out into the smart phone world. Whilst they played catch up to Apple for a good 3 years or so Google was finally crowned the king early last year and hasn’t showed any signs of slowing down since then. Of course in that same time Apple created an entirely new market in the form of tablet computers, a market which Android has yet to make any significant in roads too. However whilst Google might be making a token appearance in the market currently I don’t they’re that interested in trying to follow Apple’s lead on this one.
Their sights are set firmly on the idea of creating another market all of their own.
For products that really bring something new to the table you really can’t beat Project Glass. Back when I first posted about Google’s augmented reality device it seemed like a cool piece of technology that the technical elite would love but if I honest I didn’t really know how the wider world would react to it. As more and more people got to use Glass the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive to the point where comparisons to the early revisions of the iPhone seem apt, even though Glass is technically cutting edge all by its own. The question then is whether Google can ride Glass to iPhone level success in creating another market in the world of augmented reality devices.
There are few companies in the world that can create a new market that have high potential for profitability but Google is one of the few that has a track record in doing so. Whilst the initial reviews are positive for Glass it’s still far from being a mass market device with the scarce few being made available are only for the technical elite, and only those who went to Google I/O and pony up the requisite $1500 for a prototype device. No doubt this will help in creating a positive image of the device prior to its retail release but getting tech heads to buy cutting edge tech is like shooting fish in a barrel. The real test will be when Joe Public gets his hands on the device and how they integrate into our everyday activities.
You’d think that since I invested so heavily in Silverlight when I was developing Lobaco that I would’ve been more outraged at the prospect of Microsoft killing off Silverlight as a product. Long time readers will know that I’m anything but worried about Silverlight going away, especially considering that the release of the WinRT framework takes all those skills I learnt during that time and transitions them into the next generation of Windows platforms. In fact I’d say investing in Silverlight was one of the best decisions at the time as not only did I learn XAML (which powers WPF and WinRT applications) but I also did extensive web programming, something I had barely touched before.
Rumours started circulating recently saying that Microsoft had no plans to develop another version of the Silverlight plugin past the soon to be released version 5. This hasn’t been confirmed or denied by Microsoft yet but there are several articles citing sources familiar with the matter saying that the rumour is true and Silverlight will recieve no attention past this final iteration. This has of course spurred further outrage at Microsoft for killing off technologies that developers have heavily invested in and whilst in the past I’ve been sympathetic to them this time around I don’t believe they have a leg to stand on.
All of Microsoft’s platforms are so heavily intertwined with each other that it’s really hard to be just a Silverlight/WPF/ASP.NET/MFC developer without a lot of crossover into other technologies. Hell apart from the rudimentary stuff I learnt whilst in university I was able to self learn all of those technologies in the space of a week or two without many hassles. Compare that with my month long struggle to learn basic Objective-C (which took me a good couple months afterwards to get proficient in) and you can see why I think that any developer whining about Silverlight going away is being incredibly short sighted or just straight up lazy.
In the greater world of IT you’re doomed to fade into irrelevance if you don’t keep pace with the latest technologies and developers are no exception to this. Whilst I can understand the frustration in losing the platform you may have patronized for the past 4 years I can’t sympathize with an unwillingness to adapt to a changing market. The Windows platform is by far one of the most developer friendly and the skills you learn in any Microsoft technology will flow onto other Microsoft products, especially if you’re proficient in any C based language. So whilst Microsoft might not see a future with Silverlight that doesn’t mean the developers are left high and dry, in fact they’re probably in the best position to innovate out of this situation.
Despite my country upbringing and both my parents being avid gardeners I’m not that good at taking care of plants. Nearly every single plant that has been under my care has died a horrible slow death thanks to my neglectful nature save for a lone Zebra Cactus which has managed to thrive where everything else failed. It then follows that my backyard which consists of a few various trees, large swath of lawn and an untamed hedge would probably be some kind of desolate wasteland with only a few tumble weeds roaming by. Strangely enough however the backyard teams with all sorts of plant life and no matter how hard I try to get rid of some of them they keep coming back as if to mock my deliberate attempts to thwart them.
When we first bought the house the backyard had been recently been re-turfed and looked quite nice. However this didn’t last long as the lack of rain and heavy water restrictions meant that we couldn’t give it what it needed to stay the luscious green that it once was. The backyard was then a dust bowl for the longest time before we started getting some serious rain again and almost immediately afterwards we were confronted with a cacophony or varying plant life that decided to call our backyard home. For the most part these were common grasses so we were happy to see the green return to our backyard.
Over the last winter however we let the lawn get overgrown mostly because we didn’t want to kill off the green covering that we had managed to get back after years of not having it. Still with summer fast approaching I knew we’d end up with grass over half a meter tall if we didn’t start to maintain it right away. After ploughing through the thick tufts of grass for nigh on an hour I began to notice something; that lovely green covering was anything but that. In fact the grass that had taken over the back yard grew in such a way that it covered the area surrounding the main tuft. This smothered any other plants that were nearby and so instead of having grass covering the back yard we in fact had dozens of tufts that barely covered it at all. So much for that illusion of a green lawn.
Thinking about it for a while I realised what I could do to get the ground covering I had been looking for. You see in the absence of any other involvement the dominant species in the back yard would be the plant that could get the most sunlight and smother any of it’s potential competitors. The various broad leafed weeds that had once infested our yard had no chance since they didn’t have the height advantage that this particular grass did and any kind of crawlers were quickly trounced by the fast growing tufts. What was needed was some artificial selection with yours truly at the helm.
For as long as we’ve lived in our current house I’ve put off doing any yard work for as long as humanly possible. This is mostly because I was lazy and had other more pressing things to attend to but in doing so I fostered conditions that allowed one species to dominate our back yard. In order to get an even coating of some kind of plant in our back yard I figured that I’d need to constantly mow it, at least once every 2 weeks. This then destroyed the advantage that the tall grass tufts had whilst providing favourable conditions for smaller plant life in the form of the grass clippings. I began this experiment about a month ago and the results have been quite surprising.
As of today our back yard isn’t dominated by a single plant any more as there at least 5 distinct plant varieties that now thrive there. Whilst the tall grass tufts still remain there are at least 2 other species of grass, 1 lot of clovers, several clusters of dandelions and a crawler that seems to have overtaken a corner next to a couple of our trees. It would seem that the selection pressure I put on the environment of our back yard was enough to encourage many plants to get a foothold in our little ecosystem and now they’re all doing battle for backyard supremacy. My money is on the clovers taking over as they grow quicker than anything else and have a substantial footprint already, but time will tell which one of these plants becomes victorious.
For an armchair scientist like myself this little experiment gave me one of those little thrills that you can only get from an experiment going so well. Verifying a hypothesis, even one that’s got a wealth of proper scientific study behind it, is really what science is all about and it’s so amazing to be able to do it right in your own back yard. I bet if (you have a backyard that is) you take a look out at your own ecosystem you’ll see various selection pressures at work and, depending on how sciencey you’re feeling, conduct your very own artificial selection experiment.
So tell me friends, what does your backyard ecosystem look like?