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Archive for September, 2013

#318 – Snapchat Art

I’m always late to the party when it comes to identifying new internet memes.  LOLcats are as foreign to me as sex is to a virgin.  Yet even I can recognize that we are on the verge of a new fad.  And we have sexting to thank for it.  That’s because this new craze is taking place on Tiger Woods’ favorite iPhone accessory Snapchat where aspiring “artists” are using the disappearing photo app’s doodling tools to create works of art.

Creating art on a medium whose content is designed to disappear may seem counter intuitive at first glance but when you consider that there are in fact ways to save the images that one sends or receives it makes perfect sense.  As digitaltrends.com points out, “Shortly after Snapchat’s launch, users figured out how to capture and store snaps in a variety of ways – and now there’s even a user-friendly app called Snap Save available for iOS. If you want to make a record of a snap you send or receive, it’s very easy.”

That discovery at first led to the rise of Facebook groups and entire websites dedicated to exploiting “leaked” Snapchat photos of scantily clad co-eds who thought the images they were sending to their boyfriends would never be seen by millions of people.  Such a blatant violation of users’ privacy on an app predicated on privacy should have been the death knell for Snapchat.  But instead the opposite happened.  The app somehow found a second life as a creative outlet becoming everything that Draw Something once hoped to be.

As the Verge explains, “Like Instagram prints and Twitter poetry, Snapchat is the latest social network to accidentally produce a new genre of art.  The app’s rudimentary drawing tool isn’t built for serious work; it allows users to doodle over a photo or video in basic colors, a cute gimmick that lets you draw a mustache on your boss or send a selfie of yourself wearing a party hat on your birthday.”

And yet despite the limitations there has still been some impressive work done from replicas of famous paintings to mock portraits of subway commuters.  The best part about all this is that this is just the beginning.  Only a handful of people have found mainstream success doing this so far.  Just imagine what will happen once this catches on.  So get used to seeing combination of real photos mixed with doodles of super heroes.  For Snapchat Art is now officially a thing.

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Get used to seeing images like this one.

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#317 – Oculus Rift

The future we were promised is not the one we got.  We wanted flying cars but all we got were flying birds.  Thankfully our fortunes are about to improve for we are on the verge of finally getting to live out an actual, honest to goodness, immersive virtual reality experience thanks to the Oculus Rift, a virtually reality headset that promises to revolutionize what it means to play a video game.  

If you don’t believe me just ask Dan Down who wrote a review of the Oculus Rift for Focus Magazine.  In that article he wrote: “play a game on a console in front of your TV, and you’ll come away from it remembering that you were looking at your TV playing a game.  The Rift is different.  I came away recalling events in the game as something that had really happened to me.” 

Forget for a second everything else that you’ve heard about the Oculus Rift up until this point.  Forget about the fact that it may give you simulation sickness at first.  Forget about the fact that all other prior attempts at virtual reality over the last twenty years have failed.  Forget that there may not be enough games developed yet to make it worth its likely $300 price point.  Forget about all that and just focus on the simple fact that it’s so real, so life like, so immersive, that you will literally be gaining memories just from playing it.  Game changed.  

And as time goes on it’s only going to get better and better as more and more games and accessories get developed for it.  On the gaming front hit games like Portal 2, Half-Life 2 and Hawken have already made their way onto the system and now word has come out that you can use the Rift to experience theStar Wars trench run.  It’s probably not a stretch to imagine that a racing game where you in the cockpit of a race car or space ship could be next.  Anything that lends itself to a point of view experience where having a wide field of view is advantageous could be in play.   

But the real long term, mainstream appeal of the system may wind up being tied to the companion accessories that are currently being designed.  Take for example, the Virtuix Omni, a platform designed for the Rift that enables you to walk and run around virtual environments.  Combined with special shoes that keep you steady and a harness that prevents your from falling over you now have the ability to explore your surroundings without fear of bumping into the walls of your apartment.  Such a setup could turn the Oculus Rift from something that you or I might want to use to something that you grandma might want to use as a way to explore the art work in a museum from the comforts of her living room.  

As amazing as all that is I haven’t even mentioned the ARAIG (As Real As It Gets) vest that will shake your body when you get hit by a bullet or the Delta Six motion sensitive rifle controller.  With so many amazing accessories already on the market and many more likely to debut further down the road there’s no telling just how incredible and life like our future virtual reality experiences will get.  Could we possibly even get to the point where we spend hours or even days stuck in a virtual world unable to wake ourselves up and return to reality?  I don’t know.  All I know is that whatever winds up happening will be awesome.

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Is this the future of gaming?

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#316 – Spoiler Foiler

It’s a Monday night.  You just returned home from a busy day at work and your pregnant wife has a massive craving for pickles and Rocky Road ice cream.  You want to run to the store for her, she is, after all, carrying your child, but you also really, really, really want to watch last night’s episode of Breaking Bad that you have saved on the DVR.  Considering that it’s a minor miracle that you made it through the day without finding out what happened you don’t want to risk accidentally over hearing something while in the produce section.  But you relent.  What’s a few more minutes you say to yourself as you head out the door.  Big mistake.  Just as soon as you wrap your hand around a stray shopping cart in the Stop & Shop parking lot, it happens.  Swiftly and suddenly and without warning it just happens.  A man talking on his cell phone while walking across the parking lot starts shouting “bitch” uncontrollably.  

At first you think he’s having an argument with his girlfriend until you realize that he is doing an impression of Jesse from Breaking Bad.  A pit forms in your stomach as the realization sets in that you are now within earshot of a conversation about the one thing you’ve just spent all day trying to avoid.  Refusing to get spoiled at the 11th hour you take off in a dead sprint for the front of the store, narrowly avoiding getting hit by a car in the process, yelling out over your shoulder to your pregnant wife who you’ve left to fend for herself, “I’m sorry, I love you, meet me in Aisle 5!” 

Unlike some of the other imaginary scenarios that I’ve written about on this blog the aforementioned story actually happened to one of my co-workers the other day.  Such is life in today’s society where appointment viewing has given way to binge watching.  And there’s not much that one can do about it other than to turn off their phone, ignore their friends, and ditch their significant others in public places if the situation warrants it.  Not exactly a great way to go through life. 

Thankfully, Netflix has a solution for us and even though it won’t help us out in shopping center parking lots it will help us navigate the digital minefield of spoilers known as Twitter.  Dubbed Spoiler Foiler this new Twitter app hides Breaking Bad related tweets from your feed.  According to the Huffington Post, “The app finds tweets containing any and all words associated with the show and blacks them out so you can read Twitter in peace. If you want to see what the offending tweet says, you just have to click it and its content will be revealed.”

Netflix’ motivation for creating this app is simple.  They want people who are late to the party to be able to watch the entire series of Breaking Bad in its entirety on their site before they’ve been spoiled.  Hopefully, this technique catches on and can be used to create additional filters for other pieces of information that you want blocked from your feed such as the outcome of sporting events.  Until then we’ll have to continue relying on our fight or flight instincts to take us out of harm’s way in a moment’s notice.  Hopefully our loved ones will understand. 

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Thanks to Spoiler Foiler I’ll be able to enjoy Twitter next Monday.

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A few weeks ago I was ranting and raving about all of the bombshell announcements coming out of Hollywood :  “The news regarding spinoffs keeps getting better and better. Just days after the Breaking Bad prequel “Better Call Saul” was officially confirmed and days before Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. picks up after the events of the Avengers word comes out that J.K. Rowling will be penning a Harry Potter spinoff series!!!”  

Flash forward two weeks and it appears as though we have a full blown copy cat epidemic on our hands as news has started to come out about yet another amazing spinoff as the Walking Dead will soon be joined by a companion program.  Set within the same zombified world that Rick Grimes and company currently occupy the show will instead focus on a whole new set of characters and have absolutely no overlap with the current cast.  But that doesn’t mean that it’ll be any less awesome.  In fact, with lessons learned from having developed a hit show to this point this new series could be even better than the original.  Perhaps with more character driven episodes or with fewer main characters dying off, two criticisms of the hit show to date.  And on a personal level, hopefully they will actually cast some hotter girls this time.  I’m sorry but the likes of Laurie, Andrea, Maggie, Carol and Michonne just aren’t cutting it.  

So what will the new show be about?  We can only speculate at this point but an article on Forbes does a good job of doing just that: “a show about a small band of, say, cops and doctors and military personnel who run a search-and-rescue team looking for survivors in the zombie apocalypse and bring them back to what may be the only safe zone left in the U.S. would be an interesting approach. It’s still a survivor’s tale, but it’s all about rescue and going into new locations to find people who might not even want to be found. Or perhaps the show could be set in another country entirely, to show what’s happening in the rest of the world — it might not be a bad idea, for example, for the show to take place in Latin America and feature a multinational cast.” 

Overall, I think this is a great idea for AMC to pursue as they are obviously in need of creating another cash cow now that Breaking Bad is winding down.  And the idea of a companion series instead of a straight prequel or sequel to the current show is a great way of achieving that goal without cheapening the original material.  Quite frankly it’s something that I wished more shows would do/would have done.  Which begs the question:  what show is going to attempt a spinoff next?  According to published reports there will be a third branch of the NCIS setting up shop in New Orleans .  But there won’t be a Mad Men spinoff.  

To be honest as excited as I am for almost all of these projects I am also a little bit concerned that Hollywood is trending towards going the safe route wherein they look to milk established franchises dry instead of trying to develop new original series.  It makes a lot of business sense to do what they are doing but in the long run it may not be what’s best for business.  Because when it comes down to it nothing beats a fresh idea.

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Spinoffs are taking over!!!! Bleedingcool.com thinks the Walking Bad may not be that far off.

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#314 – Project Spark

As I mentioned the other day one of the best things that I saw this past weekend at the Maker Faire was a demo unveiling Microsoft’s latest venture, Project Spark.  Right now it’s still in beta testing but in just a few months it will be unleashed on the World at which point users will get to create playable video game levels using their own gestures, movements, and voice commands to shape and mold the on screen action.  

As Engadget explains, “Project Spark lets you record motion sequences that you can then overlay onto your chracters, whether they be gargoyles or assassins. This goes even further when you add in some facial movements or voice recordings. In practice, this worked really well. Our demonstrator went in full-bore with an ogre like stomping motion, complete with gruesome facial moves, and seconds later the onscreen beast was doing just the same.” 

Engadget adds that you can also, “share your creations, co-operate on projects over the cloud and create worlds as large as you want. The worlds you create do technically have a maximum size, but they can then be stitched together for seamless transitions, so there’s plenty of space for your creativity to spill out.” 

That’s welcome news for someone like myself who has an over active imagination and way too much free time to spare.  I have a feeling, however, that in the near future free time is going to be hard to come by because as cool as it is to create characters that move in your own image it’s even cooler to make the scenery for your World as you can do so with just a few waves of your hand as if you were conducting an orchestra. I saw this process unfold first hand at the Maker Faire demonstration as the Microsoft employee created an entire Island complete with a cave and full blown vegetation in under a minute.  There are no words to describe the feeling of awe that you’ll experience the first time that you see this process unfold.  I imagine it is how a mother would feel after giving birth for the first time.  Yea, it was that awesome. 

Considering how easy it is to use this system we could be looking at a full blown revolutionary, game changing product that makes playing video games our new national pastime.  As Angry Birds and other mobile offerings have shown video games aren’t just for nerdy teenagers anymore.  They are for everyone and soon everyone is going to want to be using Project Spark to make and play their own games.  It just doesn’t get any better than having the ability to record dramatic scenes, create your own dialogue, and insert characters that look like you into a playable World that you create.  In Microsoft’s Xbox One infused dream of owning the living room Project Spark could be the missing piece that ties all their efforts together.  Sure I could be over blowing its potential significance but then again if you saw what I saw you’d understand where I was coming from.  It was that epic.  

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Is creating your own playable games the future of gaming?

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#313 – 4-D Printing

It’s a Sunday night. You are hosting dinner and the whole family is over even your in-laws. All you want to do is watch football but instead you are having a heated debate with your father in-law about the merits of twerking. As the conversation turns to fracking you contemplate whether or not it would be a good idea to gauge your eyes out with your salad fork. Just when you are about to fake a narcoleptic episode your son runs into the room and starts shouting, “daddy, daddy you have to come see this.” At this point you don’t care what it is that he has to show you; even a booger would be welcomed, and so you head off into the abyss known as your den no questions asked.

When you get there you find your niece and nephew watching TV. Okay, so far so good you say to yourself. There’s no blood on the carpet and the dog’s fur hasn’t been painted purple again. Instead, what you find is the family’s 3-D printer hard at work putting the finishing touches on a John Cena action figure that your son had downloaded from Thingiverse. You are furious, not because your son used the 3-D printer without your permission, but rather because he has such bad taste in wrestlers. You want to go on an epic rant about why Cena sucks but at this point you have been so beaten down by the day that you hold back your emotions and compliment your kid on his craftsmanship. Welcome to the future.

It’s a future where 3-D printers are as ubiquitous as cell phones. Where they slowly start making their way into our living rooms changing our lives the way that television sets once did. But unlike televisions these just won’t be mere status symbols used to show off to your neighbors. Instead we’re going to use them to print our food, our clothes, our toys, our appliances, and yes, one day, even our body parts. But as great as the promise of 3-D printing is it pales in comparison to another emerging technology that has even more potential to disrupt industries and uproot the status quo: 4-D printing!

So what is it?!?!? According to Discovery.com, “the 4-D-printing process involves using materials that shift shapes in response to movement or when brought into contact with water, air, gravity, magnets and/or temperature change.” Essentially what you are doing is 3-D printing something and then adding the fourth dimension to it with the fourth dimension being time.

The research has been headed by M.I.T.’s Skylar Tibbits. The New York Times bits blog quoted him back in February of saying, “this is a whole new idea of printing, where you don’t just print static objects; you print things that turn into other things.”

According to Gizmag this means that, “The technology has the potential to change the face of construction and manufacturing and could make it easier to build in extreme environments (including space or other planets) where construction is dangerous or expensive.”

Back here on planet Earth the technology could have a major impact on the way that we buy and ship goods. As Fast Company suggests, “Imagine opening a box and your new purchase snaps its parts into place by itself – self-assembling like a Transformers bot.” Amazon could have a field day with this.

All this goes to show that the future we think we can envision is probably going to be vastly different than the future we wind up with. A few years ago when the idea of 3-D printing a pizza was unheard of 4-D printing would have been downright laughable. Now both are a reality. At the rate we’re going at we may even see 5-D printing some day. What that 5th dimension would be I have no idea. But I’m sure it’ll be amazing.

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3-D printing is great and all but it’s got nothing on 4-D printing!!!

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#312 – Maker Faire

This past weekend all manner of tinkerers, hobbyists, makers, machinists, roboticists, and futurists descended upon Flushing Meadow Park in Queens on the eve of the 75th anniversary of the 1939 World’s Fair for the Maker Faire aka the World’s Greatest Show and Tell.  I didn’t know what to expect when I made my way there to join them but I was fairly certain of one thing: it was going to be the best day of my life. And other than the fact that I had to pay $7 for a hot dog it certainly didn’t disappoint.  From the Internet of Things and the Raspberry Pi to Augmented Reality and 3-D Printing there was no shortage of things to geek out about.

Here’s a look at a few of my favorite things:

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I started out the day by walking by the iconic globe from the first World’s Fair.

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The first presentation I saw was a talk given by Intel’s in house futurist Brian David Johnson who talked about Jimmy the Robot, Intel’s initiative to create an open source programmable robot.

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Then it was off to see Makey Makey and the banana piano. It was really cool to finally see in person some of the things that I’ve written about on this blog.

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I then saw this new chip from NASA that they plan to release into space next year to search for asteroids!! They also had a model of the Mars Rover on hand and I got to see how it picks up and stores items that it collects.

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This might be the coolest thing that I saw. It’s an accordion couch that collapses or expands depending on your needs.

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Soccer playing robot!!! It could even do a hand stand!

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This head was made by a 3D printer!!! Amazing!!!

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Here I am playing an augmented reality video game! Only the person wearing the glasses could see the game.

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Just like in the movie Real Steel these boxing robots would attack each other based on the movements of the person controlling them.

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This image demonstrates how Project Spark, Microsoft’s newest venture works. Essentially, it lets users create their own video games by waving their hands at the screen. This was by far the best new invention that I saw.

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This standing room only crowd was listening to a talk from Bre Pettis about the new MakerBot Desktop 3D scanner.

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And of course no science fair would be complete without an appearance from R2-D2!!!

So what was the take away from all this?  Other than the fact that the future looks bright it’s the fact that 3D printing is blowing up!  Of the 600 + exhibits I would venture a guess that at least 60% of them were dedicated to 3D printing.  Which means that it’s going to take over the World if it can survive the inevitable litany of patent infringement litigation that they are going to face.

I can’t wait to see what next year’s Maker Faire has in store.

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