Archive for June, 2017

In the book the Filter Bubble, author Eli Pariser described how we’ve undergone a subtle cultural shift as today’s tech giants like Facebook and Google shape the way we think.  It used to be that you got your news from the newspaper.  Reputable sources that went to great lengths to cover facts and reports the news as fairly as possible.  Now you get your news from Facebook, and thanks to a filter bubble that insulates you from opposing viewpoints, the news that you’re getting is likely to come from your friends or sources that you already find agreeable.  The same holds true for Google search results.  Depending on who you are and what Google already knows about you, the places you shop, the items you buy, the websites you visit, your search results, could be vastly different from your neighbors.

Pariser made the point, that whether the Filter Bubble was a by product of the system or a malicious undertaking by the tech companies, didn’t matter.  Since it’s now the reality that we live in, affecting society in a very real and tangible way, as the debate over the healthcare bill proves, it’s imperative that the tech companies behind the filter bubble step up and take some responsibility over their actions.  Self-editing themselves the way that newspaper used to by hiring ombudsmen.

Well, the other day Facebook took a step in that direction when Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook was changing its mission statement.  No longer would Facebook just be about connecting people throughout the world.  What would really matter going forward was meaningful connections.  Building communities not echo chambers.

In remarks at the Facebook Communities Summit Zuckerberg summed up the effort:

“For the last decade or so we’ve been focusing on making the world more open and connected. But I used to think that if we just give people a voice and help some people connect that that would make the world a whole lot better by itself…Look around and our society is still so divided. We have a responsibility to do more, not just to connect the world but to bring the world closer together.”

It’s a change that’s been a long time coming.  As the Verge puts it, “it was last year’s contentious US election — and the scary but real possibility that Facebook had a hand in influencing its outcome — that forced the company’s hand and pushed Zuckerberg to rethink what happens next, after the world is more open and connected than ever before. Facebook could no longer ignore the proliferation of fake news stories; the presence of bad actors, both independent and state-sponsored; and the ramifications of a live video platform that could be used to broadcast suicide and murder.”

So, how will Facebook execute its new mission statement?

According to the Verge:

“Facebook is now turning to its Groups feature as the next step in fostering positive community-building…Facebook will give group admins more direct access to metrics like growth and engagement, and allow them to more easily and efficiently filter through membership requests, schedule posts, and remove trollish or abusive users and all posts and comments from those users with a single action. Facebook also highlighted its idea of a quintessential and productive group with some examples like Lady Bikers of California, for female motorcycle riders to meet up in person, and an addiction support group started to offer support to those suffering from drug and alcohol addiction.”

Sounds to me like Facebook is turning into Meetup.com, encroaching on their territory by trying to facilitate the fostering of real-world communities.  But it also sounds to me like Facebook finally gets it. Finally realizes the negative impact that the filter bubble that they created has had on the world.  If they’re willing to finally take responsibility for their actions and become a force for social change and community building that’s a good thing.  Now we just have to hope that Google and all of the other companies that contribute to the filter bubble follow their lead.

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Is Facebook’s new mission the Greatest Idea Ever?

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For a while it was getting harder and harder for advertisers to reach consumers.  It used to be that you could run an advertisement in the newspaper and reach a ton of people but that stopped being the case when people stopped reading the newspaper.  The ability to record TV shows and fast forward through the commercials was a near fatal blow to the advertising industry as well.

So what happened next?  Marketers got smarter.  Figuring out ways to specifically target individual people with ads that follow them around the web.  Search for a new garden hose on Amazon and the next thing you know you’re seeing ads for garden hoses on Facebook.

But that’s just the start.  In the near future online marketing may become so sophisticated that website morphing, the ability of a webpage to change its look and feel depending on who is visiting, could become a real thing.  That’s right, in the future websites may eschew the standard, one size fits all approach to website design in favor of dynamic web pages that physically change their design on the fly.

This approach makes sense.  Research has already proven that certain people respond better to certain types of online advertising whether that’s a certain color, font, font size, or layout design.  If you’re running a shoe website and you know that I’m more likely to make a purchase when seeing advertising that’s written in Comic Sans instead of Times New Roman then why wouldn’t you pull out all the stops to make sure that I’m always seeing Comic Sans?  It may just be enough to get me to pull the trigger on that new pair of sandals that I’ve been eyeing.

Mighty morphing websites don’t have to be limited to advertising campaigns either.  This same approach could work to provide a general personalized approach to surfing the web.  If I like a certain font or layout design then I’d be more likely to visit websites that share that same design ethos.  Whether I’m shopping, reading articles, or participating in social media discussions doesn’t really matter.  Tailor your material to my personal design sensibilities and I’m more likely to stick around.

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Is a morphing website the Greatest Idea Ever?


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Since 1965, Moore’s law, which portends that every 18 months the number of transistors on a computer chip will double, has held firm, leading to cell phones that get smaller and smaller and more and more powerful every year.  It stands to reason that eventually this trend will slow down as we reach the outer limits of what is mathematically and physically possible.  That doesn’t mean that our phones won’t continue to shrink though.  Other innovations might be able to step in and pick up the slack when Moore’s law inevitably slows down.  And thanks to Caltech we may now have one of those innovations: a lens-less camera.

As Engadget reports, “Even as our phones get thinner, there’s one spot that keeps sticking out: the camera lens. Taking good pictures and being able to focus at multiple distances requires a layer of glass that’s a certain size, but there’s really no getting around it — or is there? Researchers at Caltech have devised an ‘optical phased array’ chip that uses math as a substitute for a lens. By adding a time delay — down to a quadrillionth of a second — to the light received at different locations on the chip, it can change focus without a lens.”

Before we get too excited it’s worth nothing that the initial image quality isn’t that great.  It’ll be a while before the team is producing high resolution images using this technique.  But as far as initial first steps go, this was a big one.  And it’s not the only remarkable feat of engineering that Caltech has been working on.  According to Engadget, “Back in 2014, the team showed off similar technology turned around to create a projector small enough to fit inside your phone, while another application showed the potential for making your phone into a precise 3D object scanner.”

With technology like this at our disposal we may eschew having phones all together in the future.  Instead, imagine if you will, a single hand-held device, similar to a magic wand, that would act as a projector, 3-D scanner, camera, voice-controlled assistant, etc.  Thanks to Caltech an ultra-thin device like that may now be possible.

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Is the lens-less camera the Greatest Idea Ever?

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The other day Google randomly released an update to Google Glass for the first time in three years leading to a fury of headlines from tech blogs making fun of the seemingly pointless act of updating something that no one even knows exists, yet alone uses anymore.  Was this update done by mistake?  Was it just some routine maintenance?  Or does it portend a return to glory for what was supposed to be a game-changing technology!?!

TechCrunch explains:

“So, Glass is alive? Well, yes, but it never really died. Despite seeming to go the way of the Dodo (you can’t buy it anymore and Google shut down the website in 2015), it never really left us, it just ‘graduated’ from Google X after failing to capture consumer attention. Google then quietly moved it into the enterprise. But, apparently, someone at Google is still working on the dork-inducing consumer version.  We don’t know why Google chose to release these two updates. It’s odd for an update to pop up after nearly three years — especially one without too much of a difference from the old version. But it shows Google has not completely forgotten about its optical-mounted wearable.”

Meanwhile, over in Cupertino, Apple may be working on something similar to Google Glass, proving that the idea and the technology hasn’t gone by the wayside just yet.

According to the Washington Post, “Further down the road…there could be room for iGlass — that is, Apple’s take on a Google Glass-type headset. Could Apple succeed where Google failed? Advances in headset technology, plus some classic Apple design chops, could make the devices more appealing to the non-geek…”

Why would Apple want to go this route when Google Glass was such a rousing failure?  It’s simple.  They need to make a big splash when they release the 10th anniversary edition of the iPhone, something innovative that would show that Apple hasn’t lost their way in the post Steve Jobs era.  A phone that’s capable of a pulling off a few fancy augmented reality tricks, something that no other phone can pull off yet, would go a long way towards doing just that.

So what will iGlass feature?  There are plenty of potential options ranging from gaming and retail to facial recognition and job training.  But if iGlass is going to catch on it’s going to need a killer app that’s going to catch on with consumers.  And I’m not sure that Apple is capable of coming up with a truly innovative AR app.  If they are, then perhaps Augmented Reality isn’t dead yet.  And perhaps there’s even still hope for Google Glass.

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Are we about to see the return of Google Glass?!

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This is next level awesome.

Last week in New York City, Comedy Central, and specifically the Daily Show with Trevor Noah, sponsored a comedic pop-up installation, the Donald J. Trump Presidential Twitter Library.  The installation, modeled after the libraries that every President since FDR has been honored with, mocks Trump in every possible way.

It’s a fitting tribute to a President who deftly used the micro blogging platform to rise to power.  Although, deftly may not be the right word to use since it’s clear that Trump is often flying by the seat of his pants, tweeting out insults at 3 am and using misspelled words like Covfefe that he later claims weren’t misspelled at all. It shouldn’t be surprising though that I can’t find the right word to use.  After all, I’m not Trump.  I don’t use the best words.

The museum, which only lasted for a few days, was located a block away from Trump Tower, and featured the Gone But Not Forgotten memorial that paid homage to infamous deleted tweets.  There was also a fake bank vault housing Trump’s mysterious tax returns and a replica of the Oval Office complete with a golden toilet.

But don’t worry.  If you missed out on all the fun you can still check it out.

According to CNN:

“If you didn’t get a chance this weekend to pop over to the pop-up ‘Donald J. Trump Presidential Twitter Library’ in New York City, Comedy Central has you covered.  The network created a 3D, interactive virtual tour you can take now that the exhibit has closed.”

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Is the Donald J. Trump Presidential Twitter Library the Greatest Idea Ever?

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I have a PS4 and barely play it.  It’s a shame really.  I constantly feel its addictive pull, tugging at my heart strings, fiercely fighting for my un-divided attention in a world filled with infinite choice.  I want to play.  It’s just that I fear the game becoming a massive time suck whether I were to play No Man’s Sky, Destiny 2, Witcher 3 or Uncharted 4.  So I tend to avoid it at all costs.  Instead choosing to spend my free time with creative pursuits such as reading, writing, and creating works of art on Instagram.  Thankfully, there may soon be a solution that will allow me to play video games and be creative at the same time.  That’s because there’s now a video game, called Elegy for a Dead World, that you “play” by writing songs, poems, short stories, etc. as the exploratory adventure advances.

As Big Think describes, the unlikely game, “leaves the players with ‘no game to play,’ but to explore three long-dead civilizations, observe, and make notes… or stories — or poems — or songs.  The three lost worlds feature beautiful scenery, moving music, and are inspired by Percy Shelley’s Ozymandias, Lord Byron’s Darkness, and John Keats’ When I Have Fears That I May Cease to Be. They create a strong, moody atmosphere that becomes the breeding ground for feelings and ideas.”

So how does it work?!

“The game eases you into the writing process with challenges, prompts, and fill-in-the-blank sentences. It has 27 writing challenges that might ask you to write a short story about an individual’s final days, a song about resignation, or a poem about war. In one challenge, you’re an archaeologist uncovering clues; in another, you’re a thief. In the more advanced levels, you’ll sometimes get new information halfway through the story, which casts a new light on things and forces you to explain or justify past actions. Once the game stirs your creativity, you can delete the prompts and use all the creative freedom in your writing you want.”

A video game that you “play” by writing poetry and short stories!? That’s one time suck that I wouldn’t mind at all.

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Is Elegy for a Dead World the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Jeff Bezos is on record as saying that Amazon would never fulfill their true potential until they could figure out a way to sell food and clothing, two items that were notoriously difficult to sell online for obvious reasons.  Amazon’s acquisition the other day of Whole Foods could solve the first problem.  And now their new Wardrobe program for Prime members could solve the later.

What Amazon is offering is a chance for Prime customers to try on items such as clothes or shoes, at home, for free.  If you decide not to buy any of the items, there is no charge, and Amazon will arrange for free pickup from your home to complete the return.  If you do wind up buying any of the items that you try, there’s a sliding scale for discounts, so that the more you buy, the more you save.

As TechCrunch details, “First you pick at least three items, and up to 15, from more than a million Amazon Fashion options, including clothes, shoes and accessories for kids and adults, to fill your Prime Wardrobe box with no upfront cost. Brands available include Calvin Klein, Levi’s, Adidas, Theory, Timex, Lacoste and more.  Once the Amazon Prime Wardrobe box arrives, you can try on the clothes for up to seven days. Then you either schedule a free pick-up or drop the re-sealable box with its pre-paid shipping label at a nearby UPS to return whatever you don’t want. Keep three or four items from the box and get 10 percent off everything, or keep five or more for 20 percent off. You only pay for what you keep, with no charge upfront. Amazon Prime Wardrobe is free for Prime members with no extra fees.”

At this point you’re probably thinking to yourself: where’s the catch?  How could Amazon afford to lend out that much inventory up front, with no added costs, while also covering shipping fees, and how could they possibly handle the logistics of scheduling pickups, and restocking items that were returned.  Not to mention the hassle of figuring out if items were used before they were returned.

The short answer is because they’re Amazon.  When it comes to handing logistics there’s no one better. They can just have a drone pick up your items and a robot restock it.  They don’t care.  All they care about is reducing the friction from the online clothes shopping experience so that more people will buy directly from them.  And quite frankly they may have succeeded with this incredible offer.  Unsure if something fits?  Just order one in every possible size.  You’re guaranteed to find the one that fits and it’s now incredibly easy to return the rest so there’s no reason not to take this approach.

In fact, if you combine Amazon Wardrobe with the new Echo Look that provides fashion advice while taking pictures of you trying on clothes you come to the conclusion that Amazon could be on the verge of dominating the fashion and apparel industries just like how they’re about to dominate groceries and anything else that they set their sights on.  Is Amazon Prime Wardrobe excessive and unnecessary?  Probably.  But it’s also awesome.  Welcome to our new reality.

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Is Amazon Prime Wardrobe the Greatest Idea Ever?

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