Count your bees with this Raspberry Pi project

Bees need all the help they can get. Thus programmer Mat Kelsey created a bee counter to see just how many of his winged honeymakers are hanging out in his hives. His system, which uses a Raspberry Pi and a machine learning algorithm that recognizes the number of individual bees entering a hive, is used to see bee trends over time and see just how the bees are faring.

“The first thing I thought when we setup our beehive was ‘I wonder how you could count the number of bees coming and going?'” wrote Kelsey. “After a little research I discovered it seems no one has a good, non-intrusive system for doing it yet. It can apparently be useful for all sorts of hive health checking.”

The system looks at sets of pictures of the hive door taken every 10 seconds. It then extrapolates out the background, assesses the objects that have moved in the frame, and then counts the things that are likely to be bees. It’s a fascinating problem to solve since the bees are constantly moving and because it can also ignore bees that are coming out of the hive.

You can download the source on Github and check out his detailed blog post here. Given the need for bee protection as we enter an era of colony collapses, tools like this one are wildly important. Plus it’s cool to see a Raspberry Pi do something so complex.

Adobe CTO leads company’s broad AI bet

There isn’t a software company out there worth its salt that doesn’t have some kind of artificial intelligence initiative in progress right now. These organizations understand that AI is going to be a game-changer, even if they might not have a full understanding of how that’s going to work just yet.

In March at the Adobe Summit, I sat down with Adobe executive vice president and CTO Abhay Parasnis, and talked about a range of subjects with him including the company’s goal to build a cloud platform for the next decade — and how AI is a big part of that.

Parasnis told me that he has a broad set of responsibilities starting with the typical CTO role of setting the tone for the company’s technology strategy, but it doesn’t stop there by any means. He also is in charge of operational execution for the core cloud platform and all the engineering building out the platform — including AI and Sensei. That includes managing a multi-thousand person engineering team. Finally, he’s in charge of all the digital infrastructure and the IT organization — just a bit on his plate.

Ten years down the road

The company’s transition from selling boxed software to a subscription-based cloud company began in 2013, long before Parasnis came on board. It has been a highly successful one, but Adobe knew it would take more than simply shedding boxed software to survive long-term. When Parasnis arrived, the next step was to rearchitect the base platform in a way that was flexible enough to last for at least a decade — yes, a decade.

“When we first started thinking about the next generation platform, we had to think about what do we want to build for. It’s a massive lift and we have to architect to last a decade,” he said. There’s a huge challenge because so much can change over time, especially right now when technology is shifting so rapidly.

That meant that they had to build in flexibility to allow for these kinds of changes over time, maybe even ones they can’t anticipate just yet. The company certainly sees immersive technology like AR and VR, as well as voice as something they need to start thinking about as a future bet — and their base platform had to be adaptable enough to support that.

Making Sensei of it all

But Adobe also needed to get its ducks in a row around AI. That’s why around 18 months ago, the company made another strategic decision to develop AI as a core part of the new  platform. They saw a lot of companies looking at a more general AI for developers, but they had a different vision, one tightly focussed on Adobe’s core functionality. Parasnis sees this as the key part of the company’s cloud platform strategy. “AI will be the single most transformational force in technology,” he said, adding that Sensei is by far the thing he is spending the most time on.”

Photo: Ron Miller

The company began thinking about the new cloud platform with the larger artificial intelligence goal in mind, building AI-fueled algorithms to handle core platform functionality. Once they refined them for use in-house, the next step was to open up these algorithms to third-party developers to build their own applications using Adobe’s AI tools.

It’s actually a classic software platform play, whether the service involves AI or not. Every cloud company from Box to Salesforce has been exposing their services for years, letting developers take advantage of their expertise so they can concentrate on their core knowledge. They don’t have to worry about building something like storage or security from scratch because they can grab those features from a platform that has built-in expertise  and provides a way to easily incorporate it into applications.

The difference here is that it involves Adobe’s core functions, so it may be intelligent auto cropping and smart tagging in Adobe Experience Manager or AI-fueled visual stock search in Creative Cloud. These are features that are essential to the Adobe software experience, which the company is packaging as an API and delivering to developers to use in their own software.

Whether or not Sensei can be the technology that drives the Adobe cloud platform for the next 10 years, Parasnis and the company at large are very much committed to that vision. We should see more announcements from Adobe in the coming months and years as they build more AI-powered algorithms into the platform and expose them to developers for use in their own software.

Parasnis certainly recognizes this as an ongoing process. “We still have a lot of work to do, but we are off in an extremely good architectural direction, and AI will be a crucial part,” he said.

Twitter delays API change that could break Tweetbot, Twitterific, etc.

This morning, the developers of third-party Twitter clients Tweetbot, Twitterific, Tweetings and Talon banded together to highlight upcoming API changes that could potentially break the way their apps work. As you might expect, their collective user base — a base largely made up of folks who need more out of their Twitter app than the official one offers (or folks who, you know, just want a native Mac app after Twitter killed the official one) — got loud.

In response, Twitter has just announced plans to delay the API change for the time being.

Originally scheduled for June 19th, 2018, the API change would see Twitter’s “streaming” API replaced with its new “Account Activity” API.

The problem? The aforementioned developers point out that, with just two months before the change was set to be made, they and other third-party devs hadn’t gotten access to the new API — and changes like this take time to implement correctly.

Meanwhile, even once implemented, the new API seems to have limitations that could keep these apps from working as they do today, potentially breaking things like push notifications and automatic timeline refreshes. You can read the developer group’s breakdown here.

Twitter isn’t giving a new date for when it expects to retire the streaming API, but says that it’ll give “at least 90 days notice.”

Veriff wants to make it simple to present identification online

Whenever you are doing something online that requires you to present an official ID like a passport or driver’s license to complete the transaction, it presents risk to both parties. Consumers want to know they are secure and brands want to know the person is using valid credentials. That’s where Veriff comes in.

Kaarel Kotkas, CEO and founder of the company, says the goal is to be “the Stripe of identity .” What he means is he wants to provide developers with the ability to embed identity verification into any application or website, as easily as you can use Stripe to add payments.

The company, which was originally launched in Estonia in 2015, is a recent graduate of the Y Combinator winter class. When you undertake any activity on the web or a mobile app that requires a valid ID, if Veriff is running under the hood, you can submit an ID such as a driver’s license. It uses a secret sauce to determine that the ID being presented is an officially issued one and that it belongs to the person in question.

When you consider that there were over 15 million identity thefts in the US in 2016 alone, you know it’s not a simple matter to identify a forgery. Fake IDs can be quite good and it’s often difficult to identify fraudulent ones with the naked eye.

It’s hard to tell the difference between the real and fake IDs in this shot. Photo: Veriff

If you want to open a bank account online for instance, you have to provide proof of identity for the bank. With Veriff, you take a picture of yourself, then submit a picture of your official ID and Veriff analyzes it to make sure it’s valid.

The idea is to make the ID process easy and quick for the consumer, while providing an accurate way for the brand to check IDs online. Consumers also benefit because someone can’t use their identity online to get credit or other services.

If there is an issue with the ID, the person can be directed to a human for a video chat where they can discuss it if need be.

The company currently has 20 customers and is on track to do $100,000 in revenue this month, according to data they provided at their Y Combinator Demo Day presentation. They plan to make money by charging $1 per verification.

RapidAPI, an API marketplace that processes half a billion API calls each month, raises $9M led by A16Z

 APIs — lightweight application interfaces that developers use both to integrate third-party services into their own apps, and to let their apps get used more easily by other developers — have become an essential, and fast-growing, building block of the tech world. Now, a startup that helps app builders find, use, pay for and track calls on those APIs is announcing a round of funding… Read More

The API for absurdity

Colorful ceramic cube texture and background Every important technology goes through a hype cycle. You’ve probably seen the Gartner Hype Cycle diagram: inflated expectations, followed by despair and eventually a pragmatic understanding of the technology’s value. World-changing promises tend to turn into mundane reality — if they don’t fall off the roller coaster entirely. Read More

A modern-day Renaissance: APIs fuel a cultural shift in businesses

hamsterwheel As software proliferates every corner of a business, IT is being crushed by demands from users who require applications and data to be always available and always connected. IT can no longer meet the demand by simply running faster on the hamster wheel. The new operating model requires IT to build reusable, self-service assets and infrastructure to avoid reinventing the wheel every time a… Read More

The rise of APIs

smartphone app construction api It’s been almost five years since we heard that “software is eating the world.” The number of SaaS applications has exploded and there is a rising wave of software innovation in the area of APIs that provide critical connective tissue and increasingly important functionality. There has been a proliferation of third-party API companies, which is fundamentally changing the… Read More

Blockspring integrates with Slack so you can build super useful bots that do real work

Slack chief marketing officer Bill Macaitis' business card.

Blockspring, the Andressen Horowitz-backed ‘do anything with a spreadsheet’ startup, is announcing an integration with Slack that will allow non-coders to make their own Slack bots that can do real work, as part of Slack’s own announcement of enabling their API for adding slash commands.

Blockspring essentially enables any spreadsheet user to pull data feeds from the web into their sheet with zero coding knowledge. Now, excel ninjas are coders in their own right — using the world’s most popular, albeit limited, coding language. Blockspring opens the doors for more traditional software architecture to be sort of ‘added to’ Excel (or Google Sheets), such as layering data feeds on top of one another, and can be easily accessible to the billion-plus spreadsheet users around the world.

So, how does this work with Slack?


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How do you get consumers to connect with and engage with your brand flawlessly? This free and interactive web event arms you with the tools you’ll need to get ahead.

“What we realized was a lot of API requests are way too complicated to create all these different Slack bots for,” Blockspring CEO Paul Katsen told me. “Let’s say you want a bot to give you a Google Analytics report, like the number of users hitting your site in the past month. To do that, you’d have to try and have a conversation with a bot that’s trying to be human-like. We realized that doesn’t really work. Rather, people should be creating their own, customized commands through a single bot that can do anything. So rather than having a special Google Analytics bot, you can just tell Blockspring Bot to go get the Google Analytics data (or any other data feed) you want.”

That’s actually pretty cool. Here’s what it looks like.

blockspring google analytics

Above: Screenshot of sample Google Analytics report shown in Slack via Blockspring Bot

What Blockspring for Slack essentially does is provide a single bot to bring all of your teams’ services to you, rather than the other way around. And it’s all through one command, “/blockspring.” So as a support agent, you could send a text message to a customer based on their question through a Twilio integration. Or here’s another one: Set up a custom Facebook Insights report retrievable through Slack in less than 60 seconds. Blockspring Bot doesn’t try to understand your natural language like most bots. Rather, it lets you configure what your command will look like and completely customize how it will act.

Blockspring says the average Slack user spends 2 hours a day in active conversations in Slack. It’s nifty you can order your lunch through Slack with a bot (or any other number of cute commands), but that’s not what I’d call a revolutionary productivity gain. But what if you could get web traffic data on your competitors right in Slack while chatting with a teammate? Just hit the “add to Slack” button for whichever API you want to add in the Blockspring console, and you’re on your way.

blockspring alexa

Using Blockspring, you could even run some of your most common HR and training questions right in Slack. Train your team to ask /blockspring in Slack their questions, and Blockspring can check a source spreadsheet through a simple VLOOKUP function to spit out the answer. That can save some serious time at scale.

blockspring training

Above: Blockspring’s ‘question and answer’ module in Slack, where the top of the image is the source spreadsheet for the Slack command below it

Whether or not Slack will fulfill its promise to revolutionize the way we work remains to be seen (and that’s being kind). Integration with real work tools — like Blockspring — and taking any data feed from the web and bringing it right into Slack is a start for that vision to come to life in a tangible way. Maybe that’s even optimistic. But there’s really cool use cases with Blockspring that actually make sense for doing actual work (i.e., not ordering a Lyft through Slack).

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