Archive for the ‘Apps’ Category

#1,324 – Jolt

In the book Moonwalking With Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything, author Joshua Foer describes how he trained for and competed in the U.S. memory championship in just one year after previously covering the event as a journalist.  It’s a great read and one of my favorite books of all-time, entertainingly depicting what it takes to create a memory palace, a place in your mind’s eye where you can store images to better help you remember just about anything from decks of playing cards to long strings of random numbers.

In the book one of Foer’s fellow memory competitors was lamenting the fact that we collect stamps and baseball cards and lots of other things, but no one really consciously collects memories.  We just rely on our brains to store recollections of key events, but anyone who has ever had a word stuck on the tip of their tongues, knows how fallible memories can be.  What usually jogs them is someone else giving us a clue.  A keyword that can spark a new connection in our minds.  For instance, if you are having trouble remembering a party you were at and someone says it was the party where your sister threw up on your best friend, suddenly the images come flooding back in, usually in vivid detail.  Isn’t that weird? For the longest time you were unable to access a memory even though it was lying somewhere in the recesses of your mind.  Inaccessible due to a weak connection that hasn’t been exercised since the events unfolded decades earlier.  Wouldn’t it be great then if there was a way that we could help each other remember?  If there was a way that we could help each other collect memories?  Help each other remember trivial things that we have long since forgotten?

What I’m envisioning is a phone app that would link to our Instagram and Facebook accounts to find pictures of us and then show those pictures to our friends, who would then have to come up with a word or two to serve as a future clue for us, in case we ever need it, when looking back at those pictures later in life.  Sure we could do this chore ourselves.  Take copious notes and describe what we thinking or feeling at the time the picture was taken.  But that’s a tedious exercise that no one is going to want to do for every picture that they have.  Especially on days when they take hundreds if not thousands of pictures.  But what if you were to gamify the act of quickly labeling someone else’s photo?  Well, that might actually be fun.  A time-suck that would actually benefit society.  Think of it like a cross between Candy Crush Saga, Instagram, and Words with Friends.  An addicting game, involving pictures, with a social component.  Perhaps the more pictures you comment on, the more points you’d get.  Points that you could exchange for prizes.

I’d call this game, Jolt, because we’d be jolting each other’s memories, and aside from the monetary motivation, people might actually enjoy playing this game on merit alone.  If for no other reason than the fact that they would be jolting their own memories along the way.  Reminiscing and taking a stroll down memory lane, strengthening the connections of their own neurons, every time they swipe through a picture.  Surely, there are worse uses of someone’s free time.  Like every other mindless task we currently do when we’re bored.  With Jolt at least we’d be giving something back to society, helping our friends relive their glory days, one memory at a time.

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Is Jolt the Greatest Idea Ever?


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A few weeks ago I saw a post on social media wherein people were posing in art museums in front of paintings that looked just like them.  Somehow, against all odds, these people had found themselves in the annals of history.  They had found their art doppelgangers.

Clearly, this was just mere coincidence.  There are only so many facial combinations that people can be comprised of so it stands to reason that over time, across generations, that people would invariably just wind up looking like one another.  More so by chance that any other reason.  Sorry time travel conspiracy theorists.

But I wasn’t going to let that simple fact remove the luster from this one in a million accomplishment.  And I certainly wasn’t going to let reason stand in the way of my new life goal: to find myself in a museum too.  Even if I am one of a kind.

Thankfully, I no longer have to travel the world to do just that.  Thanks to Google’s new Arts and Culture app I can now do so from the comfort of my living room.  All I have to do is take a selfie and feed it into an algorithm that’ll compare it thousands of artworks from around the world to find my best match.  Just like how much a picture of Donald Trump returned a 97% match with a painting of a clown.

As it turns out I wasn’t alone in my desire to be compared to famous works of art.  Apparently, it’s something that we all want.  As witnessed by the app’s meteoric rise to the top of the free app charts.  And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

As Digital Trends puts it, “Thanks to front-facing cameras on smartphones, we take the opportunity to snap selfies whenever possible. This week, we have an app with a new feature that builds on this tendency — to indulge in narcissism — by throwing in a bit of educational value to go along with it.”

The only way this app could actually be bad is if the crazies were right and the app was just a ploy to collect our selfies for the malevolent creation of a facial recognition database that could then be used to track our every move.  But there are ways around like.  For example, one could do what I did and upload a funny photo that would likely throw off any future authorities that might be hot on my trail.  Or one could cover their face with a mask or simply hold up a picture to their phone’s camera.

But to be honest I wouldn’t worry about all that.  Google acknowledges up front that they won’t be using your image for any such purpose and even if they were it’s probably still worth it just to be able to participate in the early front-runner for app of the year.  After all, we all want the same simple thing in life.  To receive that validation, that yes, we are priceless works of art.  Just like we always thought.

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May the Force be with me!

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How do you watch TV? As it airs while live-tweeting your every waking thought and opinion? Via your DVR, at your convenience, so that you can catch up when you feel like it, and fast forward through the commercials as you please?  Or on Netflix years later, so that you can binge watch an entire series all at once and never have to go through the torment of waiting for new episodes to air?

Regardless of how you watch TV currently, the way in which you watch TV in the future may be drastically different.  In fact, it could be drastically different right now if you’re willing to roll the dice on a new Choose Your Own Adventure style app from director Steven Soderbergh known as Mosaic that puts you in control of a character’s destiny and the pace at which you watch it all unfold.

As Wired puts it:

“After watching each segment—some only a few minutes, some as long as a standard television episode—viewers are given options for whose point of view they want to follow and where they want to go next. Those who want to be completest and watch both options before moving on can do so, those who want to race to find out whodunit can do that too. Because each node, filmed by Soderbergh himself, feels like a TV show, launching Mosaic can be akin to sneaking a quick show on Netflix while commuting to work or waiting on a friend; but because it’s long story that’s easily flipped through, it can also be enjoyed like the pulpy crime novel on your nightstand, something you chip away at a little bit at a time before bed.”

The idea of interactive storytelling isn’t new.  Netflix is working on similar technology, starting with children’s programming, and of course the iconic Choose Your Own Adventure books started it all.  But Mosaic feels different.  Especially since it’s designed with smartphone using millennials in mind, not couch potatoes watching through a traditional set top box in their living room.  But if you are a traditional consumer of television programming don’t fret.  The murder mystery storyline fueling Mosaic’s app will also be airing on HBO in January as a mini-series.

So will Mosaic be the future of television programming?  Only time will tell.  For now, it’s just another source competing for our undivided attention in an age of distraction.

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Is Mosaic the Greatest Idea Ever?

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The volatile Bitcoin is on the upswing again.  It’s now 4X as valuable as gold and according to some projections its value over the next few years could reach as high as $40,000.  But it’s not the only peer to peer digital network that’s making waves.  Ethereum is also fast on the rise with Microsoft announcing plans to create an Ethereum based blockchain framework that will allow large corporations to easily do business on these new decentralized networks in the future.

And make no mistake about it, the future is definitely heading towards decentralized networks.  Thanks to the Internet and various open-source movements it’s now easier than ever to share information and work together.  And people, just like atoms, inherently want to work together.  Charlottesville would seem to be evidence to the contrary but that’s the exception not the rule.  Overwhelmingly, people want to work together, want to be together.  It’s why we start families and live in cities.  And the same holds true for everything in the Universe.  It’s why atoms bond together.  Why multi-cellular organisms form.  Why galaxies cluster.

On a planet with billions of people and billions of computers it’s likely that a system will eventually emerge that would combine all of the resources at its disposal.  A global brain is an inevitability at this point, not a theory.  The proof is in the pudding.  Collaboration has literally happened every other time there’s been a similar opportunity so why wouldn’t it happen again?  Every solar system is proof of that.  Cosmic structures working together, the Moon governing tides on Earth, Jupiter acting as an asteroid barrier, the Sun creating the necessary conditions for life.  The Great Barrier Reef is also proof of that.  Millions of organisms working together to create a vibrant ecosystem.  The waste of one organism becoming the food for another as the largest organic structure on the planet forms over thousands of years.

Information wants to be free and it wants to be distributed as efficiently as possible, using the lowest possible energy.  This is the way that the real world works so why should the digital world be any different?  That’s why Ethereum is so exciting.  Central authorities like banks, governments, and corporations, the very entities that the 99 % is weary of, aren’t going to be needed anymore.  Anything we could possibly ever want to do, every type of transaction, every type of validation and verification, we can now do ourselves.  Easily.  Efficiently.  Securely.  Together. The future has arrived and we have the blockchain to thank.

Here’s a quick look at some of the first settlers of this brave new digital world, courtesy of Wired.  These are just some of the many entities laying the groundwork of the future, thanks to Ethereum:

  • “The Golem Project describes itself as ‘AirBnB for computers.’ Users can sell their machine’s unused computing power or buy it from others. Early adopters have already used it to render CGI images on strangers’ computers that would have otherwise been sitting idle. Those adopters did not need to trust that Golem would pay them for their computing time or that the code would run as promised; the transactions were guaranteed by the openness of the network. In the future, Golem could be an alternative or even a challenger to the current cloud computing hegemony.”


  • “Gnosis is another market DApp with a lot of buzz. It’s a prediction market, meaning users can bet on the outcome of events (i.e. ‘Will Roger Federer win the Australian Open?’) and question askers can leverage the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ to better predict an event’s outcome. Prediction markets have existed before, but they have always been heavily regulated and dependent on trust in a central source to determine the correct answer and dole out the money. ‘With Gnosis, we are not only using Ethereum to do payments. We are using it to build the core of the prediction market,’ says Gnosis co-founder Martin Köppelmann. ‘Previously, people had to send money to our company, our company would hold the money, and later we sent it back. Now the big difference is that it’s really peer to peer. We don’t touch users’ money.’”

Coindesk details several other Ethereum based apps poised to make a big impact including the Vevue Project, which aims to bring Google street view to life with embedded 30 second long user generated videos, KYC-Chain which verifies users identities, Eth-Tweet, a microblogging platform, and WeiFund, a crowdfunding app.

As you can see, the future is rife with opportunity.  Ethereum is the latest digital Wild West, the latest wide-open real estate in search of settlers.  If you missed out on the web movement and watched on the sidelines as Amazon ate the World now is your chance to get in on the ground floor.  If you missed out on making “a killer app” now is your chance to get in on the action.  If you’re a developer or an entrepreneur creating a new platform on Ethereum is where it’s at.  Aside from creating augmented or virtual reality based businesses there’s no better starting point.  We could very well be looking at a Web 2.0 scenario where every company, every business, every website suddenly becomes obsolete, replaced by an Ethereum based alternative.  What’s the Amazon of Ethereum going to look like?  Who is going to become the Google of Ethereum?  Will you be watching it all happen or will you be one of the ones making it happen?  The future has arrived.  Time to get onboard.

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Is Ethereum the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#1,089 – Binky

First, there was Fake News.  Now there’s Fake Social Media.  Binky, is a social media platform that isn’t really an actual social media platform.  It just mirrors the look and feel of social media, complete with swipes and endless scrolling, and it’s every bit as addicting as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and all other forms of real social media. That’s the hope at least.

As creator Dan Kurtz put it on Product Hunt:

“Binky is an infinite list of random things to look at. Scroll through the stuff when you want something to scroll through. It sounds dumb, but it’s just as compelling as real social media apps, and way less stressful. Use it as a replacement for:

  • Scrolling through awful news on Twitter
  • Scrolling past people who are happier than you on Facebook
  • Swiping through your pages of apps, and then swiping back again, and then putting your phone away
  • Staring at your phone without turning the screen on
  • Staring out a window and wishing it were a screen
  • And more! In addition to a Like button and left/right swiping, Binky includes an innovative anxiety-free commenting system. Just mash the keyboard, and Binky will write a comment for you.”

Kurtz’ point about using Binky as a replacement for feeling bad when using Facebook is spot on.  I have several friends who stopped using the platform for this very reason.  Binky isn’t going to make these people feel better about themselves.  It’s still a time suck and they might even feel bad about wasting time on any kind of social media at all.  But you’d have to admit that Binky at least provides them with a better option than not using social media at all.  A way for them to still feel like their part of a community, participating in a shared experience with their friends, instead of feeling isolated in their own private echo chamber.

I’m also a big fan of their keyboard mashing shortcut.  Since it’s a fake site filled with random stuff it doesn’t really matter what you say.  So the idea of just adding random comments in a fun way just for the sake of adding comments has some appeal.

But, most of all, I’m just a really big fan of the idea of an endless feed of random things.  As someone who is constantly on the search for the Next Big Thing, a random thing generator has a lot of value because you never know what you might find.  Never know what might wind up tickling your fancy or sending you down a rabbit hole from which you’ll never return.

That’s why a random thing generator isn’t something that we should dismiss just as a joke or parody of real social media.  This is something that has real value in of itself.  Just think about all the good that this platform can do from helping people deal with stress to being used as an educational tool to teach kids how to use social media to helping people like me find interesting things to talk about.

All in all, this is a platform that can do some real good.  There’s nothing fake about that.

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Is Binky the Greatest Idea Ever?

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One of the calls to action that I made the other day in my post about the Resist Movement was that everyone, regardless of whether you identify as a Republican or Democrat or Independent, should strive to get more involved in politics so that we can elect better representatives and put pressure on those already in office to talk some sense into Trump.  Well, now there’s a quick and easy way for us to do just that thanks to a new app that thoroughly streamlines the political process.

The app is known as Countable, presumably short for accountable, although a more fitting name would have been Pester, because pestering your local representative is exactly what you’ll be doing.  First, the app connects to your Facebook profile in order to determine where you live and who your elected representatives are.  It then shows you what’s on their agenda, informs you about the issue, and enables you to contact them to give your opinion.

As Wired describes:

“[Countable] shows you the next piece of legislation your representatives are expected to vote on, with a short summary of the bill and a list of pros and cons. You can click ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ to automatically send an e-mail to your representatives, or you can ‘skip’ it. You can also click on the bill’s name to pull up more details, including voting activity, costs, links to media coverage, and the full text of the bill.”

In addition, the app also keep tracks of voting records so that you can follow along and see if your representatives are actually voting the way that you want them to.  If they’re not, you’ll know that the time has come to vote someone else into office.

The gripe about politics that we hear most often is that it’s too hard to get involved.  The most common refrain of all is: if you want more people to vote, make it easier to vote.  Similarly, if you want more people to get involved in applying pressure to politicians, make it easier to apply pressure.  Countable does that, and much more.

What’s great about this app is how easy it is to use, not just for voters, but for government officials as well as it doesn’t require them to do anything differently.  There’s no special software to download or install.  No change to existing protocols.  The only difference is the volume of feedback that they’ll now be receiving.

The time has come to RESIST!  And we now have an app that makes it easy to do just that.  No.  More.  Excuses.

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Is Countable the Greatest Idea Ever?

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It started innocently enough.  A gaggle of school girls gathered near a cluster of pink roses at the San Diego Botanical Garden.  Carrying on about one thing or another.  I didn’t know what it was.  Nor did I care.  I just wanted them to go away so that I could go back to instagramming my latest masterpiece.

When I later saw those same girls at the Science Center running from exhibit to exhibit I surmised that they were doing a scavenger hunt.  One that would have them running around one of Balboa Park’s fifteen museums throughout the day.  A fun way to see a little bit of everything in one day.  And to be honest I was a little bit jealous of them.  After all, who doesn’t love a good scavenger hunt?

It wasn’t until later in the day when I was on the San Diego waterfront that I began to figure out what was going on.  Those girls and about a thousand other people were playing Pokemon Go, the newest addictive iPhone game from Nintendo that has been exploding in popularity minute by minute over the last four days.  In fact, according to TechCrunch more than 7.5 million Americans have downloaded the game already.  And that was as of yesterday.  I can’t even imagine what the number is today.

This isn’t just a game though.  It’s not like Farmville or Clash of Clans.  Rather, this is an experience.  An Augmented Reality experience that uses your phone’s camera and GPS to overlay Pokemon (aka “Pocket Monster”) characters onto reality.  If we’re both sitting in a room and you have the app but I don’t you’ll be able to see the character sitting next to me on the coach and I won’t.  You could then walk over to that spot and “collect” that Pokemon if you don’t already have it.  Users can then “battle” each other as an added source of entertainment but it seems as though that the act of collecting Pokemon is the biggest draw to the game.

I can almost understand the appeal.  Pokemon has a massive built in fan base, scavenger hunts are inherently fun, and most of the people playing were teens who are already addicted to their phones.  But here’s the thing.  It wasn’t just teens who were playing.  Literally everyone was playing.  Every.  Single.  Person.  To the point where two random strangers started talking to each other on the street after converging on the same collection point.  An instant friendship was born.  Unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.  And here’s the best part.  They were talking in front of a guy who was on the pier collecting tickets for tours at the Maritime Museum and that guy was into it too!  Literally every single person.  By the time Monday rolled around it was inescapable.  The revolution was in full force.  People were playing up and down the boardwalk at Mission Beach.  It was incredible.

A point driven home by my friend Marc who posted the following on Facebook:

“Today at the park there must have been HUNDREDS of people playing Pokemon… all ages… all genders and sizes. Smiling. Laughing. Having a great time.

In a world that has seemingly been going to shit, “Nature has an order. A power to restore balance. I believe Godzilla is that power.”

In this case… it’s Pokemon……..”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.  With so much hatred going on in the world right now, with racial tensions at an all time high, with the country teetering on the brink of self destruction, what was needed, now more than ever, was some light to shine into the darkness.  A fun, lighthearted, spirit raising shared experience that could help to bring us closer together.  Never in a million years would I have thought that Pokemon would be that unifying force.  And yet, there I was, standing on the pier in San Diego witnessing two random strangers from different ethnic backgrounds becoming fast friends as they raced to the nearest collection point.  At this rate it wouldn’t surprise me if Pokemon Go wins the Nobel Peace Prize.

However, my motivation for writing this blog isn’t to say that Pokemon Go is the Greatest Idea Ever.  It could very well become a passing fad that eventually reaches a saturation point.  Kind of like the original Pokemon.  Rather, the point is to say that this feels like the start of a new era.  An era in which Augmented Reality becomes at the forefront of everything that we do.

In the not too distant future walking directions will be overlayed onto streets.  Advertisements will pop up as we walk by store fronts.  Children looking out the window during a long car ride will see their imaginations come to life. AR will be everywhere.  It’ll become ubiquitous.  A part of our everyday lives.  A part of our culture.  A part of us.  When all is said and done Augmented Reality, possibly lead by Pokemon Go, will be a real game changer.  A game that literally changes The Game.  So, sit back and enjoy the ride.  Actually, don’t do that.  Don’t sit at all.  Get out there and find those Pokemon!



Is Pokemon Go the Greatest Idea Ever?

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