Let’s create the Internet of Our Own Things

Update: @stopthecyborgs on Twitter suggested to call it #IndieIOT. That’s what we need!

CoverBruce Sterling penned a marvelous, impassioned essay titled “The Epic Struggle of the Internet of Things” that’s being quoted widely on-line this weekend. ($3.99 at Amazon). He pulls no punches, right from the beginning:

The first thing to understand about the “Internet of Things” is that it’s not about Things on the Internet. It’s a code term that powerful stakeholders have settled on for their own purposes. They like the slogan “Internet of Things” because it sounds peaceable and progressive. It disguises the epic struggle over power, money and influence that is about to ensue….

In the Internet of Things, [the user] lacks those privileged positions, “user” and “customer”. An Internet of Things is not a consumer society. It’s a materialised network society. It’s like a Google or Facebook writ large on the landscape. Google and Facebook don’t have “users” or “customers”. Instead, they have participants under machine surveillance, whose activities are algorithmically combined within Big Data silos…

The standard IoT pitch – about the reader’s smart, chatty refrigerator – is a fairy tale. It’s like the promise of a talking chicken in every pot. Politically speaking, the relationship of the reader to the Internet of Things is not democratic. It’s not even capitalistic. It’s a new thing. It’s digital-feudalism. People in the Internet of Things are like the woolly livestock of a feudal demesne, grazing under the watchful eye of barons in their hilltop Cloud Castles…

… and so forth and forth. Powerful stuff. Much of it we could have said at the Indie Box Project, except of course that Bruce is a professional wordsmith. He’s telling it so much better than we do: the dystopian society that has started already, the replacement of the market by court intrigue, and how much more of that we’ll get.

It scares me, and should scare anybody who who thinks it was a good thing the Magna Carta came into force 800 years ago, who like democracy, the rule of law, and a level playing field, that there is a Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and all of those kinds of things.

For me, the question becomes: So what are we going to do about that? As commentator, Bruce identifies and describes, and that’s great. But we need more, at least all of us who want a better future than dystopia. We need to take action.

What about we build our own internet of things? The internet of things that we — the “users” — own, instead of some unaccountable “barons in their hilltop Cloud Castles”?

I postulate that everybody who bought one (or several) of the millions of shipped Raspberry PIs and Beagle Bones for some home automation project, did that to build their own internet of things.

That everybody who buys parts from Adafruit, or goes to a Maker Faire, does that because they build, or would like to build their own internet of things.

That almost anybody, given a choice, and all other things being equal, vastly prefers their own internet of things over somebody else’s. The “all other things being equal” is the hard part as the barons have many billions to spend with which to dazzle us. So we, in the “independent”, “indie”, “maker” community, need to get our act together so we can compete.

That is not an easy undertaking. As usually, there is too much squabbling, too much competing about the scraps tiny sub-markets, too much its-more-important-I-am-right than aligning our forces in the same direction.

But not trying is not something we can do IMHO. I’m trying, which is of course why I started the Indie Box Project. What will you do?

If you are up for cooperating in some fashion whatsoever, drop me a note?

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Posted in Comment, IoT, Market

Indie Box Lightening Talk at ownCloud Contributors Conference

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Posted in Demo, Event

Testing installation of web apps with webapptest

Anecdotally, most of the time supporting users of open-source web applications is spent helping them to get the application running in the first place. “I did change the permissions on the config file, but it still doesn’t work” is commonly heard on mailing lists across open-source land.

The question is: is this just another overwhelmed user, or did we indeed break something about installation from scratch in the latest point release? Few projects have the infrastructure to test whether installation still works as intended after each little change.

Enter webapptest. (In github here)

Let’s assume you want to know whether ownCloud still installs. This is how webapptest tells you:

> webapptest run OwnCloud1Test.pm

This will install ownCloud on your local machine (including creating Apache config files, restarting Apache, provisioning a MySQL database, initializing etc.), then figure out whether it behaves as intended (including logging in as an admin user, uploading a file etc.), and a few other things, and then uninstall it again.

The test definition is in github here.

But what about installing it on a brand-new machine?

> webapptest run --scaffold VBox OwnCloud1Test.pm

is the command to use. This one will create an entirely new virtual machine in VirtualBox, then install ownCloud and run the above procedure, and tear it back down. (Actually I cheated; this command takes a few more parameters to specify the virtual machine image, the ssh account information to use to log into it etc. but in this post, I just want to get you the idea. The important part is that it is a single command that does all of this.)

I haven’t mentioned that “the above procedure” also includes testing backup and restore, which is essential functionality that cannot possibly not work for production use; which is why we test it.

Before too long, there will also be an “amazon ec2″ scaffold where everything happens on a brand-new virtual machine on Amazon.

And all of it is just a single command, and it works for any web app including ownCloud. Indie Box code is not just for people who want a physical box to bring their data home. It also helps developers reliably deploy to wherever they like to deploy, hardware or cloud; because testing is so easy and deployment is guaranteed to do nothing else than what the test proved worked.

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Posted in Testing

ownCloud on Indie Box

In honor of the ownCloud contributors conference going on in Berlin, Germany, right now, here’s a video about ownCloud on Indie Box:

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Posted in Demo, Event


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