This is how the story of our BAYDUINO project went.
“There is a reason they call it hardware—it is hard.” Tony Fadell
“Ideas are cheap. Only execution matters.” This business truism is a mantra, frequently uttered by my co-founder Michael Reuter. And I agree. However, there are two ways from conceiving an idea to executing the project that it entails. The first is the traditional: Go to the workshop, build the prototype, test, and if successful, get orders to build more. The second way, comparably young, is to develop the concept, get a patent, and then find a sweatshop to get your project produced as cheep as possible. The latter became fashionable with companies like Nike in the 1980s; it works of course only if you have global availability of cheap labour and efficient logistics for the goods. The main prerequisite however is that the idea as such can be owned, protected for exclusive exploitation to its inventors.
For artisans, securing intellectual property rights from their creation seems as absurd as it would have centuries ago. No carpenter or tailor would be fooled that their customers would buy their work because of its unique originality of its design. The separation of idea and manufacturing came with industrial mass production, when for the first time the designer became a specialized function within the process of manufacturing. Since the design dictated all the products’ properties and how to do them to the manufacturer, the blue collar workers were rendered exchangable. Once designing things was severed from building them, it was almost natural to split the two no longer connected businesses into separate companies.
Over the last thirty years, we have seen many branches of the manufacturing industry crumble. Textile, once strong in Germany, is almost totally lost. Worst is electronics. If you want to start something with electronics. it seems almost impossible to do without globally sourcing the components. All concerns, environmental and humanitarian likewise have to be abandoned.
When we started working with data, it was obvious that the richest source of data about humans was the so called Internet of Things. More and more devices carry sensors, small instruments that continuously measure all kinds of different values about people’s actions, their surroundings, and even their communication. Some of these devices are fixed, like thermostats or webcams, many are mobile, like the smartphones or wearable accessories.
Smartphones in general are by now the most common IoT gadgets. Their sensor measurements range from geo-location to delicate readings of the magnetic fields. However, the operation systems running on the phones hardly allow direct access to these sensors. Hence it remains basically a black box, how the data is generated. The information exists only mediated through Google’s or Apple’s interpretation of the data.
Understanding, how data works, how it is generated, collected, stored, processed, and finally analyzed and interpreted has become the basic skill in information technolgy. Data science is called the “hottest job” now. Without proper knowledge about the physical actuality behind the data, it stays just theorizing scholastics,
This is how the story of our BAYDUINO project went.
One year ago, I visited the beautiful city of Turin in Piedmont for a special occasion: The grand opening of Casa Jasmina at the Fab Lab there (see my report here). Next door to casa Jasmina sits the Officine Arduino. The Arduino (or Genuino respectively) has become the most common platform to prototype for the Internet of Things. It is open source and strongly tied to the maker culture.
I am not good in soldering. All educational hardware that I tried, ended in disappointment. In particular, most are way too complicated to just give to the kids; they would fail, too, and then come back to me, hoping I could help them. So I had a strong desire to come up with an easy path into sensor hardware. Also I was convinced that it should be possible to source such a projects locally in Munich, maybe with some help from other parts of Europe.
When back home, we discussed my experiences from Turin in our team and decided, that we would start developing. My friend Nils Hitze recommended us to Hans Franke, a hardware expert who turned out to be a total genious. After three month we had our design ready.
The BAYDUINO is an open source hardware board. It is compatible to the Arduino as well as the upcoming BBC Micro:Bit. All components come from Europe, most have traveled less than 150 km – with one exception: The CPU which is Chinese. Sadly we were not able to find a local one. The boards are also assembled locally.
Just two layers of circuitry, one on each side of the board. Every component would be labeled, so you could not only understand, how all the components are connected, but immediately see, what is what. The board carries various sensors like gyroscope, magnetic field instrument, or photo detectors, and five buttons as controls, has a small LED display and can easily be connected to other actors.
The BAYDUINO has an Open Roberta interface which is developed together with the Roberta team at Fraunhofer Gesellschaft.
Open Roberta is a language that lets children to do robotics with small building blocks of code that can be drag-and-dropped on a graphical user interface. This makes programming the BAYDUINO easy even for children who are not skilled in typing. We are also developing mobile apps for this task because many children have smartphones or tablets but no PC.
Rapid prototyping and accessible SMT placement shops, great support from the community, and of course the open source knowledge that is available on the net were indispensable help to getting the BAYDUINO accomplished.
With our first prototype we started a crowdfunding campaign. And in the next days the first boards will be send out.
The BAYDUINO is our idea of Slow Media translated to hardware and the IoT – Slow Technology.
“We must put human values into things, we must beware of the clashes among things. A smart house can clash with a happy house. The thoughtless convenience of seamless design can clash with the need for control and dignity. The users clash with the people. Our geek hood clashes with our personhood.” Bruce Sterling
Casa Jasmina, the first connected home built totally open source, celebrated its grand opening in Turin, Italy, on Saturday.
The Internet of Things
Smart homes -interconnected household appliances and domestic technology controlled by computer, connected cars -the automobile as cybernetic system, driving partly or even fully autonomous, wearable technology probes that we carry directly attached to our bodies, as smartwatches, wrist bands, or smart textiles, and finally smart cities, a pervasively networked communal administration – this is the IoT, the Internet of Things, which is about to enter our daily lives, and will maybe change it even more than the World Wide Web and the smartphone has done.
What is it like to live with connected technology? More than two billion people already access the Internet via their smartphones. A smartphone is in fact a platform to support some twenty different probes, sensors that continuously track our movements, whereabouts, connectivity, and many other dimensions. However, this is not how people experience using their devices. Phones and tablets appear quite similar to books with just a bit more functionality. We use our mobiles as media, and we hardly ever see them as part of some Internet of Things, of course. Thus is it far from trivial to make a truly connected life visible. So this is one aspect of what Casa Jamina is about: It is a showcase for living with connected technology at home.
Digital technology has changed almost everything in business as well as in our everyday lives. However, even if I recognized something would happen, I was never able to convince people of the consequences, that in my view had become unavoidable. Then change struck, and left its victims bleeding on the field, often enough lethally wounded. I love digital technology. I love social media, search engines, and wikis. But I moan about how easy we give away the public space, our people had been fighting hard to achieve. I moan loosing social and political control to economic reasoning. I don’t want to give away one other bit of what is left of our public goods. This is why we wrote the Slow Media Manifesto five years ago, this is why we argue to have Slow start-ups instead of more disruptive technologies. Demonstrating open alternative to proprietary platforms in the IoT is the second task, Casa Jasmina was conceived for.
At Wired Nextfest 2013, I heard Bruce Sterling suggesting a possible strategy to counter the “Silicon Valley way” of doing technology, that with good cause is called “platform capitalism” by some: Bruce suggested Open source luxury. Instead of harvesting network effects, scalability, and winner-takes-it-all economics, he advocated for economic value, based on craft. Open source, he said, would be no contradiction to luxury, at all. It would rather foster craftsmanship as point of differentiation. Instead of forcing people into an operation system, to lock-in the users to subscription plans, open source luxury would offer convenience as well as freedom of choice. And from September 2014 on, Bruce announced how this idea would be rendered tangible: The Casa Jasmina. Named after Jasmina Tešanović who would originally came up with the idea, the first open source connected home would root into the Turin Fab Lab, and its Arduino ecosystem. It would be a field trial for technology which will pervade our homes one way or the other.
Casa Jasmina will be a connected home with real people living in it. It will be not just another corporate showroom with fancy displays that nobody will ever really use. No jetpacks, no flying cars, no talking refrigerators enhanced with silly home entertainment displays nobody had asked for.
Casa Jasmina is based on two foundations. First, the Arduino, open source hardware that has become the leading platform to control the IoT. The Arduino is a genuine Piemontese invention. Started at the Interaction Design Institute in Ivrea, it is developed by a team around Massimo Banzi in a small office above the Fab Lab in Turin. While open source, the Arduino is partnering also with traditional consumer electronics suppliers like Intel or Samsung. A huge community of people commits to the development of Arduino based applications. Together with its English counterpart, the Raspberry Pi microcomputer, the Arduino now provides the strongest support for the Internet of Things.
The second foundation is design. How things look, how things interact with us and with other things, what materials are used, and what story they tell, this is as important to what things are, as is their technical functionality. Casa Jasmina is somehow design fiction, design that shows, what would be possible, to let us experience, how that feels. But other than the regular design fiction, Casa Jasmina will have objects that really work, that can be used, or if not, to be replaced by other things that would do the job. Designing things that really work is different from doing a display to just show off. Thus the things to see at Casa Jasmina might be edgy, but they will have to work with the inhabitants, and not just preveil until some trade fair’s doors close.
And now it is there, at Via Egeo No. 16. The architecture of Casa Jasmina is genuine Futurismo Italiano: Built in the 1920s, the floor of the Casa used to be the apartment for some managing ranks of FIAT, sitting right on top of a steel foundry, meant to tear down the walls between private live and industry; what better metaphor could there be for what we have today! Like the futurists demanded but had never fully realized, the Internet of Things will diminish our privacy, the bourgeois concept of private home. But instead of letting this lead right into fascism, as we had seen futurism end in 1930s, we have the chance to nudge the contemporary futurism onto a benign, democratic trail. “We must put human values into things”, as Bruce Sterling put it.
The exterior of Casa Jasmina still looks a bit run-down for Turin standards, but it would very well pass for an average apartment building in say Naples. The staircase leading to the building’s Piano Nobile is rather narrow and I suppose it was originally ment for servants and deliveries. We enter the flat through a small hallway, painted in dark grey, with a programmatic text of Bruce Sterling to introduce the visitor to the project -like you would expect an arrangement at some museum’s exhibition. Opposite of this wall lies a very basic bathroom.
Straight on, a spacious corridor opens, painted all white leading along huge windows on the right giving view to a roof garden. Left is a small living room, not seperated from the corridor by a door or threshold, but by a bookcase, a design study by Caterina Tiazzoldi. A spacious kitchen, also open to the corridor, lies separated by a wall next to the living room. Behind that follow to more rooms with doors, to be used as bedrooms when Casa Jasmina finally will house its inhabitants. At the end of the corridor, a few stairs lead to a wall with an A0 sized poster displaying an allegory of “The Internet of Women Things”.
Behind that might have been a double winged door that was probably the original main entrance. The floor in the bedrooms, the kitchen and living room is covered by an expensive, arfully made oak parquet that somehow survived the long decades during which the building had been abandoned and degrading.
Most of the furniture is designed by Open Desk, a London based design shop that publishes patterns for furniture, easy to be cut out from plywood. Open Desk’s way of distributing their designs for free is far less uncommon than we might naively think. It is rather something we used to have until very recently. If we would go to a carpenter, the artisan would show us different design examples from pattern books or catalogues. We would then commission the work based on a pattern, and the furniture would get made. So good quality in furniture is by no means connected to securing intellectual property. Rather the opposite: Only mass produced goods need protection because they can never meet artisan standards.
Smart things in the Casa Jasmina so far consist mostly of works of art, playing with concepts of Calm Technology. Some off-the-shelf smart tech has also found its way into the house. A Roomba, not connected at all, however in a way autonomous, and a Samsung Smart TV set. Right on the evening of the Casa’s grand opening, Juventus Turin faced FC Barcelona in the Champions League’s final, a game not to be missed by anybody in Turin, of course. But despite all the nerdy and geeky people around, we weren’t able to get this Smart TV set . In the end, I plugged my Laptop into the Samsung set, degrading it into a totally dumb screen for the really smart and connected however totally 20th century device that my PC is. Trouble went on after that was done, and realized, that Mediaset, Italy’s dreadful broadcast trust, would only stream their content via Silverlight – a video technology so outdated, that even its inventor Microsoft had long ago stopped supporting. So I had to start a virtual machine with Windows on my computer, and run an ancient version of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer in that.
This funny anecdote illustrates, what’s wrong with how the smart home business is implemented by the traditional consumer electronics companies. The design of the TV set is still the same as when there were just a couple of stations to switch between and no need for a keyboard to type in complex commands. Even worse is Mediaset’s online video service. Driven by the station’s wish to maintain control over the “digital rights management”, they built their proprietary system of content distribution with tools crippled for the very same reason. If such outdated software would run critical infrastructure, it would easily become a security risk. You wouldn’t even want to run your laundry with that.
Consumer electronics has the reputation to be an industry with the worst user interfaces and the lowest understanding of people’s behavior. If you have ever tried to program the clock of your stove, you know that CE engineers must be living just at the opposite site of the universe than their customers. Household technology was always outdated, obsolete electronics refurbished to once more generate some money. This is really not the industry you would want to resign your private data to. Neither are utility companies, which are among the main drivers of Smart Home, famous for their customer care.
On the other hand, we are becoming more and more used to doing things mobile. Services that are not accessible via app feel outdated and inefficient. People once having experienced the mobile convenience, will benchmark all electronic things accordingly. And why not? Just because the legacy providers of our services and products are not delivering according to our demand, should we take abstention? Should we give in, and keep to outdated, inefficient products that waste our time, energy and other resources?
Will my home be run by Google Nest or by Apple Home? Imagine the ridiculous situation, when you decided to buy some smart device from one provider, and that would require all your other stuff to run the same proprietary operation system. You’d have to either give up your smart home functionality or to restock everything with the matching system. There might be some brand purists that want to mindlessly live in a monoculture. For most people, this seams not really practical.
To become successful, smart appliances will have to be seamlessly interoperable with each other, too, no matter who manufactured them. This is not the business model of companies like Google or Apple. Open standards for interoperability is what open source stands for. The Arduino is the most advanced and most stable IoT technology anyway. But open source technology is not only better in making things work together. Open source means, that people can hack it, dismantle it, understand, how the thing and more important, its software really works. This is the only way I now that helps to make things secure. Only what can be hacked gets thoroughly tested. Only when there is a vivid discussion going on potential security flaws and how to patch these, we will get safe technology. This has been lessen we should have learned by now.
The Internet of Everything
“As Warren Ellis said at ThingsCon, we may be living in the last days when nobody knows where we are — when the home is still like an aristocrat’s castle, distinct from the rest of the world.”
The Internet of Things is not just about machines talking to each other. The sensors on our devices generate and collect data that is directly linked to our personal lives, to our behavior, our actions, and the environment around us: “Data is made of people”
Privacy, informational self-determination, and algorithm ethics become even more important with the IoT, “the Internet of Things and Humans” as Tim O’Reilly calls it, or what might be even clearer, the “Internet of Everything”. Concepts like Big Data or the IoT bear the danger to get killed by overexposure and buzzwordization. The marketing and tech babble disguises, how pervasive the influence of digital tech on our lives already is. A human-scaled model of the smart home will help to make that visible. We will be able to explore how to get the best from the truly remarkable development, that could realy help us, not only to make our daily lives more convenient, but even more meaningful, more social, and more sustainable.
And this is why I belief Casa Jasmina is a very important project.
In our consciousness of the everyday grind we are mostly aware of thoughts, feelings and actions for a moment or a longer timespan like days or weeks. We try to do the Right Thing™ at the Right Time™ to keep us in a flow to reach our goals. Frequent self-reflection on this consciousness enables us to tell if we have managed to do right.
I am using the terms right or good though they are not easily defined without getting in a mess of philosophical ethics and morality. Since I am speaking about intuition and failure in our biographies, I prefer to stay on a more subject-related level. Feel free to fill good and right with your own content. In case you don’t believe in these categories at all or don’t value them somehow: they are not playing a really important role in this post.
Arno Schmidt: Zettel’s Traum. The detail shown above read: (dug from 'dig' & this from
'digital' : to finger sth.
digital (not comparable)
 Having to do with digits (fingers or toes); performed with a finger.
 Property of representing values as discrete numbers rather than a continuous spectrum.
– digital computer, digital clock
 Of or relating to computers or the Computer Age.
Digitus is Latin for finger or toe. To comprehend the reality means literally to grasp, to catch – the same as in German begreifen – to grasp with your fingers. Of the interesting relation between our hands, the comprehending the world and counting, which form also somehow the base of our digital culture, I was reminded by Arno Schmidt’s bawdy derivation of the word digital.
When Schmidt was composing his first and most voluminous typescript novel “Zettel’s Traum” end of the 1960s, the word digital in German language had exclusively the anatomical meaning, as given under  in Wiktionary; I looked this up in several German dictionaries and thesauruses of that time period – nowhere would digital be used in the nowadays predominant way  or .
In contrary to the English-American sphere. There, digit means a sign for a number after all.
Why do the English count directly with their fingers, while we Germans calculate with the Zahl, from zala, which means a mark, a brand sign? Zahl, Zeichen (sign) and digit, as well as toe and token have the same Indo-European root *deik̑-, but the path of the word into the two languages was different however.
A problem of interest to astronomers and theologians likewise, from the late antiquity on, was the determination of Easter in the calenders. The difficulty comes from the seven days of the week, the different lengths of the months and the 365 days of the year not being each other’s multiples. Therefore, the first Sunday after the first full moon in spring varies between March 22nd and April 25th. It was the artistry of the Computus to calculate this date for the future years.
The anglosaxian Benedictine Beda, the Venerable, is the father of our chronology of AD and BC. Like many thinkers following Augustine, Beda assumed that in our world all things would be “ordered in measure and numbers” (Wisdom 11,20 – sed omnia mensura et numero et pondere disposuisti).
To give a calculation for Easter, valid and consistent for the whole world, he had written the henceforth mandatory work on the Computus: De Temporum Ratione, Of the Calculation of the Times.
Right the first chapter deals with “Calculation and Language of the Fingers”. Beda introduces counting and shows, how the denumberable, via counting with the fingers, leads to an alphabet of digits; it becomes digitised. “De Computo vel loquela digitorum” – Computing with Digits.
Even though many developments of mechanical calculation from Schickard to Leibnitz – and finally Zuse – took place in Germany, it were Charles Babbage and Ada Byron, who put a Digit Counting Apparatus in the mill of their Analytical Engine. Since then, the word digital appears more and more often in context with calculating machines in England and the US. Since the 1930s (and up to today), digital is used to name the coding of signals by discrete values and numbers in opposite to analogue.
The digital world – counted with your fingers, abstract, decomposed into data computed under logical rules. In opposite to that is apparently the reality, comprehendalbe in an analogue way.
There: Plato – here: Aristotele … etc. etc.
The breathtaking speed with which some products arising from programming like software or websites seem to be developed may mislead over the fact that programming is not a fast kind of work.
Code is poetry – the slogan absorbed by WordPress – stands for one of the many movements of digital poetry coming into existence with the arrival of Zuses computers in the mid 1950s. Artificial texts result from the programmatic exchange of words as for example “Substitute each n-th noun of a text by the n-th following noun of a certain dictionary.“ – one of the experiments of Oulipo (Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle, Working Group for Potential Literature), formed in 1960 in France, who viewed text as a fabric and fathomed the potential of aesthetics of artificial texts under laboratory conditions.
Code is poetry – in regard to the production of programming code requirements are compressing to efficient because dense production of text. Characterized by the least possible number of lines of code and characters in preferably clear nomination of either the elements of the underlying programming language and the author-chosen elements like variables and functions. The less characters and lines of code the less typewriting for the code-genesis. The more meaningful the nomination, the less semantically unambiguous, the easier the maintainability of the code. Various discussions about the structure of an ideal programming language gather around those basics.
The sense of programming is, similar to assembly line production of bulk goods, to split operations into recurring steps. Being the definition of a first criteria for the usage of programming: the operation to be programmed is anticipated as a concept which is the base for estimating expenses. Anticipating too much speed in this stage means running the risk of exploding budgets. That may result in unmanagable projects. Thus revealing another criteria for the usage of programming: the expenses of programming are measured by the defined purpose of a production step or an operation consisting of several such steps. Transformation into programming will be worth the trouble if expenses for the development of a programmed product and the integration into existing operations fall short of the expenses for operations to be substituted.
This approach is based on the assumption that the expenses of programming could be determined in advance. In fact it‘s only infrequently possible to reuse already existing software or script-libraries without verifying their applicability for the specific project-case. Programming processes contain a variety of basic requirements that are subject to permanent technical change: the chosen programming language itself is subject to change as is our everyday language. Some wellknown script-libraries or frameworks may not be maintained anymore, (new) hardware might be incompatible to some well-established programming-habits, the clients‘ usage of outdated hard- and software might prevent the usage of already established innovations in programming, maybe the hard- and software to be programmed for is already patched specifically and thus may avoid further extension. If in the latter case the documentation is incomprehensible or, worse, doesn‘t even exist, expenses are becoming incalculable. Constantly security vulnerabilities are discovered prohibiting the usage of up to then valid script-snippets. Losses in performance evolving from a certain programming-habit might force to switch to a completely new way of programming for projects being more complex.
All those conditions make up for one basic requirement of a programmer: re-reading. Rereading of own programming code for up-to-dateness and compatibility. Rereading the code of others in order to patch it with own extensions. Rereading of programming languages in order to check for the parts needed to realise individual project objectives. Rereading the code to check the criteria for security and compatibility. That‘s why programmers live in constant consciousness that their code on the date being delivered certainly is state-of-the-art but nonetheless already outdated.
“Re-reading, an activity totally against commercial and ideological habits of our society, calling us to ‘throw away‘ history as soon as consumed (…) so that we have to pass on to another story, buying a new book … re-reading is suggested here to begin, because it solely prevents the text from repetition (the ones not being able to re-read are forced to read the same (hi)story everywhere).“ (translation into English by Regine Heidorn)
Roland Barthes states in 1981.
Rereading is preventing code from repeating his history: reproduction of incompatibilities and security vulnerabilities. Cementing intricate programming and incomprehensible nomination resulting from not reflecting the use of already existing code. Adopting useless functions for the actual project that might become incalculable reasons for misfunctions. Transporting routines that might not have any function at all because they were solely coded to meet specific requirements of the previous project.
“The ones not being able to re-read are forced to read the same (hi)story everywhere“ – this is exactly what‘s happening eg to webdesigners who learned their HTML at the beginning of the 1990s and didn‘t change their habits of code-production. The result are websites based on outdated code and being incompatible to innovations such as mobile internet usage. Superfluous to tell that rereading requires time, same applies for checking the requirements for programming to establish realistic project-budget and schedule.
Code is poetry – on the contrary to prose poetry is dense – few words transport compressed meanings. Meanings also subject to change in programming languages and occasionally producing trivial redundancies. “For the master craftsperson, great code and great poetry are lean and trim, with no excess of words or other unnecessary elements.“ states Matt Ward in Smashing Magazine. Programming is a creative process demanding concentration. Slow coding thus is not a sophisticated postulate of aesthetic polemics but a semantic redundancy, a pleonasm. Which as a rhetoric figure is of ongoing importance because the breathtaking speed with which some products arising from programming like software or websites seem to be developed may mislead over the fact that programming is not a fast kind of work.