Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

#1,161 – Swiipe

Where do you get your news from? Your Facebook feed? Via the Daily Show on Comedy Central or HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver?  From your loud-mouthed co-worked or neighbor?  From the crazy lady on the subway shouting about the end of days? Or dare I ask, from an actual newspaper or nightly news program?

In the future, your answer might be none of the above.  It might be Swiipe, a new Tinder style app that lets you swipe your way to information overload.  Simply swipe left to bypass a story, swipe right to save it for later, or click on it to read it now.

To help you find stories that may interest you the app will let either swipe through entire categories, say business or sports, or select from a collection of various sources. 50 for now, but another 300 on the way.

As Tech PP puts it:

“’Swiipe News’ certainly seems like an app worth trying out as it eliminates all the clutter you usually encounter on a run-in-the-mill news platform with a straightforward and minimalistic design.”

For today’s youth, who have grown accustomed to the act of swiping and of the practice of using their phones for everything, Swiipe could become the portal through which they enter the real world.  In lieu of water cooler talk and newsstands they’ll have swipes and shares.  The fact that the app was created by one of their own, Alex Goodison, a 14 year old from Ireland, who shouldn’t even know what Tinder is, speaks to that.

For now the app is only available on iOS but it should be coming to Android in the near future.

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Changes are coming to the newspaper industry.  In the future you may get your news from a Tinder style app.


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It’s been a couple of weeks since the seventh season of HBO’s Game of Thrones came to an end and there has been nothing that has been able to quench my thirst for more episodes.  With the fate of Westeros hanging in the balance I anxiously devour every new thread on Reddit in hopes of tracking down an important clue.  As if I was a real world version of Samwell Tarly in the bowels of the Citadel.  Is Bran the Night King?  Is Jon the Prince Who Was Promised?  Is Arya’s shape shifting going to play a key role in the end game?  Is any of the travel next season going to make sense?  I need answers and I need them now.  Unfortunately, I’m probably going to have to wait over 500 days, until the spring of 2019 before I can watch my beloved thrones again.

If you’re me, you find this to be unacceptable.  If you’re software engineer Zack Thoutt, you do something about it.  Using an artificial intelligence program known as a Recurrent Neural Network, Thoutt set out to write the sixth book of the series on his own.  Which was probably a wise move since we all know that George R.R. Martin is never going to finish it.

The resulting effort is wildly entertaining as the AI program takes a stab at trying to write in Martin’s style, while also trying to make sense of over 5,000 prior pages of complex world building.  It even tries to advance the plot in what could be a sneak peak of the future of fiction writing.

According to I Fucking Love Science:

“It goes on to take its own direction with the story, introducing a new character called Greenbeard. It predicts Jamie Lannister will *gasp* kill his sister Cersei, and that dragon queen Daenerys will be poisoned by her advisor Varys.

Of course, Martin’s actual storyline is likely to differ wildly. But it’s fun nonetheless to see AI learn his language and style, and then attempt to recreate it. Here’s another excerpt:

‘Jaime yelped, in the dirt, and came to climb off beside his bedchamber, and we could almost find the tunnel at once, but we’d shut it without battle if she sings, then, and you may storm woods for fire to the west, where we feed the others. The rats come home to their lives!’”

If that’s anything like how George R.R. Martin’s actual prose would sound then I won’t be reading the books anytime soon.  Watching the visual stunning hit HBO series is enough for me.  But then again my thirst for more thrones is such that I may have to reconsider my stance, whether it’s reading the original works or the neural network’s take.  Because when it comes to Game of Thrones, something is always better than nothing.

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Is turning over the writing of the Game of Thrones books to AI the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#1,149 – Facebook Digest

Most people that I know use Facebook.  Not everyone granted.  But most people.  They use it keep tabs on old friends, stalk old flames or seek new ones, broadcast the minutia of their lives, give opinions, seek advice, or do any of the other myriad of things one can do on a social media network.  Some of them even, annoyingly so, use it to play games.  For the last time, Peter, I do not want to join your stupid mafia!

And yet, in spite of that, most people aren’t using it well.  They check in sporadically.   Liking a few pictures here and there, adding a pithy comment or two when the mood strikes.  Most of the additional content on the site, the items for sale, the upcoming events, the group discussions, goes unseen.  There are just too many other things to do.  Too many tweets to send, too many pictures on Instagram to like, too many people on Tinder to swipe through.  There are only so many hours in the day.  Relevant updates get lost in the shuffle all the time.

Facebook obviously wants to change that.  They want to make sure that you spend even more of your previous free time with them scrolling aimlessly through the news feed.  Their failed attempt to take over your phone’s home screen was the first big hint of a larger strategy yet to come.  One that would see them stop at nothing to ensure total global domination.  To get to the point where everyone is using Facebook all the time.  Using the news feed as a homepage for the entire Internet.  Using Facebook Messenger as a WhatsApp clone to conduct conversations and transact business directly with retailers.

Live video is a big part of that strategy.  A way for Facebook to take down YouTube and their rival Google.   President Trump’s own news network has already launched on the platform and more will follow.  Eventually, we’ll even get to the point where snippets from your augmented and virtual reality exploits will be embedded into your feed as well.  The acquisition of Oculus Rift hints at that.  And the latest push by phone manufacturers to build AR apps will further that effort as Facebook continues its march toward dominating the phone industry, doing for mobile advertising what Google did for desktop search advertising.

But it’s not enough.  If Facebook truly wants to take over the world they’re going to have to do more.  Our habits are already engrained.  Our attention already divided and accounted for several times over.  There’s just too much else to do.  Too many other options.  There’s no way that we could ever see every update, no way that we could ever see everything that we’d want to, no way for us to stay fully engaged all the time.  What Facebook really needs then is a shortcut.  A way for us to see the best of Facebook.  Even when we’re not on Facebook.  A way to separate the signal from the noise, the wheat from the chaff.

What I’m envisioning is a newsletter of sorts, called Facebook Digest or The Digest for short, that would compile the best of Facebook, the key status updates (changes to relationship statuses, baby announcements, job promotions, etc.), the trending news links, the most popular posts, etc. and then send them in an easy to digest newspaper format directly to your email inbox.  An algorithm would do the compiling using a combination of a personality profile that you fill out along with relevant metrics such as likes, comments, and clicks to determine what’s trending, what you’re engaged with and what you’d be interested in hearing more about.  This wouldn’t be fake news.  It would be real news, from your real life.

In theory, with the Digest you could follow along with everything that’s happening in Facebook without actually be on Facebook.  The Digest could be the perfect compromise for those of us who have pulled away from the service entirely because of how addictive it became or because we didn’t like how it made us feel.  Facebook would no longer be an all or nothing proposition.  Rather, you could still get your daily fix without having to make a full time-sucking commitment.  It would be the best of both worlds even as it pushes people away from the platform.  It may sound counterintuitive but it would work.  It would be Facebook’s greatest innovation since the advent of the like button.

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Is Facebook Digest the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#1,137 – Newsbottles

As a writer it pains me to watch the slow but inevitable decline of the newspaper industry.  I got my start as a writer as a journalist, covering sports for my high school newspaper, the Sider Press.  I even won an award my junior year for sports reporting from Newsday, the well respected Long Island centric newspaper that competed with the New York Daily News, the New York Times, and the New York Post for Tri-State readers’ eyeballs.

More than helping to launch my career as a writer though newspapers also helped me get started as a reader.  If it wasn’t for the Daily News sports section and my mom bribing me with twenty bucks to read it I might still be illiterate.  Now, I’m obsessed with reading, rummaging through used book stores on my free time in dogged pursuit of hidden gems.

Unfortunately, newspapers are dying a slow death.  As more and more people get their news online, more and more local papers are shuttering their printing presses.  In a few more years it’s possible that the only publications that exist will be the biggest name brands, the New York Times and Washington Posts of the world.  The local town gazette doesn’t stand a chance.

The key to survival for a newspaper brand is reinvention.  Adapt or die.  Looking at themselves as a company that prints newspapers, things made of paper, that get rolled up and delivered by hand to doorsteps or stacked on street corners, isn’t going to cut it anymore.  Newspapers have long depended on advertising revenues and the advertisers have gone online, have gone instead to mobile phones.  So what can a newspaper do to survive?  It’s simple: think of themselves as a news distributor, not as a newspaper.

In fact, stop referring to the term newspaper.  Don’t mention it.  Don’t even think about it.  Remove the word from the lexicon, entirely.  Instead, think outside the box.  Literally.  Think of the outside of boxes.  Think of the outside of bottles.  Think of alternative places that you can place the news.  If people aren’t going to pick up a physical newspaper anymore bring the paper to them.  Wherever they may be.  Whatever that may look like.  That’s what one Japanese print rag did at least.

According to Springwise, “Market research found that although Japanese millennials do not like purchasing newspapers, they do like to buy bottles of water. Branding agency Dentsu teamed up with Mainichi Newspapers to encourage millennials to connect with print media through their water-drinking habits. Dentsu devised the ‘news bottle’ – a bottle of water with daily news stories printed directly onto its label. The bottles also include an augmented reality component, which enables readers to access Mainichi newspapers online via their smartphones. To reduce costs, space on the bottles was also sold to advertisers.”

It’s a new twist on an old journalism slogan.  Instead of all the news that’s fit to print, it’s all the news that you can fit to print.

Personally, I think this is a great strategy.  Newspapers, newsbottles, what’s the difference really?  Might as well take it a step further and just print the news anywhere you can.  On food packaging.  On toilet paper.  Wherever.  Anywhere it might be seen.  As media theorist Marshall McLuhan once declared, “The Medium is the Message”.  Perhaps he meant that literally.

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All the news that you can fit to print.

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I’ve garnered a lot of attention and accolades over the last couple of years for the beautiful nature pictures that I’ve been posting to my Instagram account but I’ll be the first to admit: I’m no photographer.  I don’t know the first thing about contrast or lighting or shutter speed.  I do have a great eye and a knack for framing my shots but most of the credit for my success has to go to my phone’s camera and the filters and editing tools of Instagram.  If I’m a successful photographer it’s not because of me; it’s because of my tools.

Five years ago I wouldn’t have been able to do what I’m doing.  Five years ago I didn’t even like photography.  Now I’m obsessed with it.  I can only imagine what’s going to happen five more years from now once I have even better tools at my disposal.  And now, thanks to Google, I’m about to find out; about to get a sneak peak of what the future of photography has in store for me.  Thanks to Google, it’s about to get even easier to be a photographer.

Why is that, you ask?  Have they invented a new camera, a new piece of hardware that will make it easier than ever to get the perfect shot? No, this is Google we’re talking about.  Their elegant solution is obviously a new algorithm.  One that perfects your photos before you even take them.

As Wired reports:

“Researchers from MIT and Google recently showed off a machine learning algorithm capable of automatically retouching photos just like a professional photographer. Snap a photo and the neural network identifies exactly how to make it look better—increase contrast a smidge, tone down brightness, whatever—and apply the changes in less than 20 milliseconds.”

The article adds:

“Think of the algorithm as an automatic filter but with more nuance. Most filters apply editing techniques to the entire image, regardless of whether it needs it.  Gharbi’s algorithm can pinpoint specific features within an image and apply the appropriate improvements. “Usually every pixel gets the same transformation,” he says. “It becomes more interesting when you have images that need to be retouched in specific areas.” The algorithm might learn, for example, to automatically brighten a face in a selfie with a sunny background. You could train the network to increase the saturation of water or bump up the green in trees when it recognizes a landscape photo.”

It’s always bothered me that applying different filters or edits affected the entire photo uniformly.  Applying saturation to a nature photo with people in it would make the background pop but it would also make people’s skin look unnatural.  Unable to get the proper mix I’ve resorted to posting black and white photos instead on occasion. Choosing to focus on the contrasts between light and dark instead of on the vibrancy of colors.  With this new algorithm I don’t have to make difficult choices anymore. Instead, I’d get the perfect photo almost by default.

You might want to remember that in the future if you’re complimenting my photos.  What you see may not be what I got.

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This is one of my Instagram photos.  How much better could it be with the help of Google’s algorithm?


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Google isn’t the only tech company to launch a new feed based service.  Amazon just did too, creating Amazon Spark and it’s designed to turn product reviewers into “enthusiasts” and in turn its site into Instagram.  Essentially, Spark is a hybrid social media site and product store, a shoppable feed of images that could really put a damper into Pinterest’s plans as users shop items recommended by people who share their interests.

As TechCrunch puts it, “Amazon today is launching Amazon Spark, a new feature aimed at improving product discovery, which is seemingly inspired by Instagram and its use of shoppable photos. Similarly, Amazon Spark users are encouraged to post stories, ideas and images of products they love, which others can react to with comments and ‘smiles’ – Amazon’s own version of the Like or Favorite button.”

Ars Technica adds that, “Spark appears to be Amazon’s way of not only encouraging more young people to discover new products on the platform in a way that feels natural to them, but also boosting the social  aspect of Amazon as a whole. But products will always be the main focus of any Amazon feature, and Spark certainly integrates ‘shoppable’ tags more efficiently than Instagram. Amazon has the upper hand as it can link directly to products it sells and directly bring customers to that product page when they tap on the link.”

But Spark isn’t the only new innovation that Amazon recently unveiled.  They’ve also been working on a portable robot that would live inside of airports or other public spaces, and bring cellphone charging capabilities to those who hail it.  Consider it an Uber for cell phones.

As Geek Wire reports, “The idea may seem wacky, but the inventors contend that such robots would fill a need that’s currently unmet. They note that mobile devices have become ubiquitous in public and semi-public spaces:

“It can be quite inconvenient to a user when one of these devices runs out of battery power. This is especially true if the user does not have an available charging adapter for the device. Users may find themselves asking friends, or even strangers, to borrow a charging adapter. In some cases, there may not be any charging ports, or power outlets in the immediate vicinity, making charging the device even more cumbersome. Even in cases where charging stations, ports, or outlets are available, a user may have to remain close to the device. For example, charging a phone in a public place may require the user to remain in the general area of the phone to avoid theft.”

Would a charging robot solve all of those issues?  That depends on whether or one is available in your area or how long it would take to get to you.  Plus it’s highly likely that other technologies such as wireless charging devices or longer lasting batteries or phones that work without batteries will make it so that we don’t even need to recharge our batteries.  But in any event that doesn’t really matter.  The only thing that really matters is that if there’s an issue in need of solving, whether that’s cell phone charging of finding a way to make shopping more social, you can rest assured that Amazon is working on a way to solve that problem.

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Is Amazon Spark the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Storing information inside of DNA has been a neat parlor trick for years.  All of Shakespeare’s sonnets have been encoded in DNA.  Recently famed geneticist George Church encoded his own book Regenesis and made 90 billion copies of it.  A new publication record.  But that’s just the beginning.

Thanks to its ability to store information reliably DNA is the unquestioned future of data storage.  For starters, its “technology” is never going to become obsolete the way modern storage devices might.  Fine-tuned over millions of year of evolution DNA is a tried and true method of information storage and replication.  Plus its ability to store a million times more information in the same space as a standard floppy disk ever could makes it an infinitely more desirable resource for us humans.  And considering how much data we are generating on a daily basis we’re definitely going to need a reliable place to store it all in the coming years.  DNA data storage is the best and really only option for doing that.

But when that time come it’s not just books that we’ll be encoding.  In the future we’ll also have the ability to store videos inside of DNA as well.

That’s right.  Scientists have figured out a way to encode film inside of DNA as they were able to successfully encode one of the very first motion picture ever made, the famous galloping horse captured by British photographer Eadweard Muybridge, who wanted to observe if a horse ever had all four hoofs off the ground at the same time while running.

As amazing as it would be to store information and videos inside of DNA though that’s only one side of the equation.  What if the opposite held true?  What if you could also use the same technology to record what was happening inside the cell?  As far-fetched as that sounds that may actually happen one day.

According to the New York Times, “With the new research, [Church] and other scientists have begun to wonder if it may be possible one day to do something even stranger: to program bacteria to snuggle up to cells in the human body and to record what they are doing, in essence making a ‘movie’ of each cell’s life.  When something goes wrong, when a person gets ill, doctors might extract the bacteria and play back the record. It would be, said Dr. Church, analogous to the black boxes carried by airplanes whose data is used in the event of a crash.”

Obviously it’s going to be a while before we have bacterial black boxes or before we can even fully trust the data storage and replication capabilities of DNA.  But thanks to the tremendous work being done by Dr. Church and other geneticists we continue to make great progress towards that goal.  And, more importantly, we continue to make great strides at rates that would have astonished scientists just ten years ago.  What else will be possible in just a few years time?

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Is storing video inside DNA the Greatest Idea Ever?

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