Imagine, a picture to disrupt the text like a breach in typography for ruins wasteful entrance.
Here is a very interesting (and an uber-geeky) article from the Wall Street Journal that profiles New York graphic designer, Nicholas Felton’s obsession with tracking his daily activities and producing annual reports that afford some interesting insights into how he actually lives his life. Click here to read the article at WSJ.
This is a multi-part BBC documentary examining the Singularity. The Singularity is a point in time, predicted by Ray Kurzweil to occur in 2029, when the processing power of computers will surpass that of human beings. In his book, The Singularity is Near, Kurzweil argues that this point is inevitable because while human processing power is finite, computer processing power, in accordance with Moore’s Law, has doubled every year for the last 50 years. This program examines the progress being made today towards this imagined point in time and the potential advantages and disadvantages of a post-Singularity world. As each part of the program ends, the next parts can be found in the related-videos carousel that pops up at the bottom of the video-window.
One of the many reasons why I am so excited about this election is because it is astonishing evidence of the impact of technology on the political process. Technology is of course agnostic and depends on humans for its moral value. In this election we have seen the Obama campaign use technology to devastating effect on the Republican Party. By contrast with the Republican power base, the Democrat base is diverse and encompasses various interests at all levels of society. This great umbrella has been the weakness of the party, until now. The campaign’s proficient use of the internet has allowed it to reach out with their message, organizational instructions and requests for finance.
Here is a picture of the plethora of gadgets that I will be taking with me tomorrow with the goal of communicating my experience to the world, something that was beyond the ability of the normal person just several years ago. I will probably not use half of them but I am bringing them just in case. With these tools I can transmit, photos, voice, text and even video anywhere in the world – focusing the eyes of the world on any undesirable behavior or alternatively to just record what will be a historic day. This is the awesome power of the citizen in the modern age. On an aside, it is power that must never be concentrated – it must always remain like a mist, protecting our freedom, everywhere and nowhere. This collection of circuitry is probably the worst nightmare of both the traditional media and nefarious actors everywhere. And that seems just to me. The traditional media failed to ask George W. Bush the tough questions that might have prevented the Iraq War, because they were afraid of losing their seats in the White House press corps. Their ability to act as the fourth estate became concentrated and neutered. And as for nefarious actors, I can only say; cheese! The world is watching.
For those interested, above we have:
* Canon Digital Rebel SLR camera
* Sony high-definition video camera and charger
* Blackberry 8800 backup phone and charger
* Canon Powershot and charger
* Apple Powerbook 17 inch and charger
* Garmin navigatorand charger
* Android G1 and charger
* Plantronics headset for VOIP calls
* Olympus dictaphone
* SD Card adaptor – this allows me to take high quality photos with the cameras and insert the card into my phone and send that file anywhere in the world.
One of the reasons that I am so excited about innovations in the mobile space is clearly illustrated by this video describing a new application for the Apple iPhone. It is a relatively simple application that measures your heart beat based on the sound of your beating pulse picked up by the microphone. The excitement is in the possible future applications. Today our medical system is completely reactive – it only shows up for work when there is problem. Imagine how ridiculous it would be if airplane mechanics only showed up for work when a plane fell out of the sky. Again and again you see that one of the greatest determinants of whether a disease is fatal or not is how soon it is detected. We need to have a pre-emptive health system that uses technology to monitor our well-being all the time. The mobile phones of today are, as is often said, more powerful than the computers of the last decade. There are 3 billion of these computers scattered around the world and 1 billion extra are added every year. These billions of cellphones represent billions of sensors that can be used to keep track of the vital life signs of billions of human beings. Its possible to design applications to receive all of this data and to separate it into normal and abnormal indicators. Those in the abnormal range can be emailed a message directing them to visit their doctor. The data excerpt that prompted the alert can be emailed to the doctor. I recently read of an application that uses the motion sensors in thousands of Apple laptops in California to detect earthquakes. The vision is to take this networked data and create alerts that will immediately instruct public transport vehicles to reduce speed and come to a halt. With sufficient sensors, joined together in a single network, the possibilities are fantastic – we can achieve early detection of pandemics, expose the illegal exercise of state power, provide tele-medicine services and in general apply the massive computational power of the cloud to any local issue.
Here is a video of a speech given by Clay Shirky, author of the book Here Comes Everybody, at this year’s Web 2.0 Conference in San Francisco. Shirky elaborates the idea that our society has enjoyed a bounty of leisure since the Second World War but that it has not known what to do with that “cognitive surplus” until now. As a result of our new found ability to contribute rather than merely consume media, we can now covert that cognitive suprlus into more productive uses ranging from Wikipedia to mailing lists etc. Shirky tries to estimate the size of this cognitive surplus and set it in context. He estimates that creating Wikipedia took about 100 million hours of human thought. By contrast, Americans spent 200 billion hours watching television every year (100 million hours every weekend watching ads), the equivalent of 2,000 Wikipedia projects per year. An increase in productivity of just a fraction of that surplus could have a profound impact on the way we live and the institutions we create. For example, the internet connected population currently watches one trillion hours of television per year. Just 1% of that time spent on say Wikipedia-like projects could produce as many as 10,000 Wikipedia projects per year.
Its an interesting idea but it assumes that an hour of thought is equal to an hour of thought which it clearly is not. An hour spent by a professor of anthropology on the extinction of the Maya civilization is more valuable than an hour spent by me on the same subject. We see this difference in the marketplace all the time; a lawyer can sell an hour of thought for a much higher value than a traffic warden. Nonetheless, I still find the idea of a cognitive surplus attractive, its utilization plausible and its potential exciting.
This video was taken by a Chinese student in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province, China, during the 7.8 Mw earthquake on May 12, 2008. This video was taken at 14:29pm. The epicenter was at 31.084°N, 103.267°E, in Wenchuan County, Ngawa Prefecture, 90 km northwest of Chengdu, Sichuan, China, with its main tremor so far occurring at 14:28:04 local time (06:28:04 am GMT) on Monday 12 May 2008. Early reports of the earthquake’s Richter scale magnitude ranged from 7.6 to 8.0. Five major aftershocks ranging in magnitude from 4.0 to 6.0 were recorded within two hours of the main tremor.
Late at night my mind becomes a lawless region for vagrant ideas that slope beneath fading streetlamps of consciousness. One such thought this night, while reflecting on why anyone would leave a virtual world of their own creation, is the funny notion that we are all the avatars of a divine entity in a virtual world of his/her/its creation. Through us he/she/it (oh for crying out loud everyone knows God is an old man with gout) gets to experience the sensations of a trillion souls. And you thought your inbox had a lot of email!
In this presentation Stanford Law Professor Lawrence Lessig outlines his thesis with respect to copyright in the age of the internet. Lessig argues that there is difference between the way the law enforces copyright in the non-digital or pre-digital world and the way the law enforces copyright in the digital world. In the non-digital world there are limits on the enforcement of copyright – exceptions are made for fair use and derivative works. In the digital world however, copyright is enforced without these limits. This policy mistake is being enforced through digital rights management technologies that prevent the sort of re-creation that in the past led to new art forms across a plethora of disciplines ranging from jazz to the works of Andy Warhol. Lessig argues that we pay a massive price, in lost creativity and free speech, for the failure of the law to balance competing interests in the digital world in the same way that it did in the pre-digital world.
In the last few days my interest has been captured by the world of life-streaming. After a few days of nosing around in various online sources I have discovered that we seem to be in the middle of a whirlwind of activity in this area, so it seems like an opportune time to look at what is being done and see how it compares with this author’s humble opinion of the potential in this area.
Lifecasting: Most people are familiar with the concept of surveillance. We have all at some point stood in our corner store and, while waiting for the credit card machine to process our transaction, noticed those black orbs in the ceiling that record our behavior in that homely welcoming please-come-again way. In contrast, imagine if you were wearing a camera around your neck that recorded everything you did, that would be sousveillance – the recording of an activity from the perspective of a participant in the activity. Today, sousveillance has evolved from the trail-blazing work of Steve Mann to the type of first-person reality video-feeds that you can experience on the Justin.tv website. This whole area of recording and transmitting video of one’s daily life is generally referring to as “lifecasting.”
Lifestreaming is different and it emerges from the interaction of two areas of technology: (a) RSS and (b) social networking software. First RSS. Suppose that you are really interested in technology. For some inexplicable reason you lust to know the latest developments as soon as they occur. You frantically go to the top 50 technology blogs (yes there are at least 50!) every day to see if anything new has been launched. That’s a lot of effort, a lot of open windows/tabs and sometimes half of the blogs you visit may have no new news. RSS helps to solve this problem. The best way to conceptualize RSS is to separate the content on a website from the website itself. So on the one hand you have all the bells and whistles that constitute a website, buttons and tabs etc. Then on the other you have the content – raw text that describes say the newest product released by Apple. An RSS reader checks with the websites that you are interested in and if there is new content it pulls it down from the website and shows it to you in your RSS reader. You don’t have to go to the website anymore – any new content is automatically pulled down and displayed to you in your RSS reader.
If you have been in anyway sentient over the last 3 or 4 years you will have heard of the phenomenon of social-networking software. One of the earliest and best-known examples is Flickr. Flickr is a website that allows you to upload photographs and share them with others. One of its features is that it tells you when your friends have uploaded new photographs. So imagine that I have a friend that really enjoys tasting new beers. Every time he drinks a new type of beer he photographs the label and uploads the photograph to Flickr. So for example, I can see that on Tuesday he had a Hooegarden and on Thursday he had a Pilsner Urquell. This trail of activity is known as an activity stream. Now this friend of mine also has good taste in music. He is also a member of iLike, a music-centered social network and so whenever he plays music on his computer his profile on the iLike website shows the songs that he played. So if I go to that website I can see that he listened to Morrisey on Tuesday and Nirvana on Thursday. This friend of mine is a member of a number of other social sites such as Twitter (where he shares random thoughts, usually about his boss), and Delicious (where he shares his bookmarks) etc. The problem is that I have to go to 5 or 6 sites to see what he is doing. RSS again steps in to solve this problem. His behavior on each of the sites produces an activity stream and I can you use RSS to pull this activity into my RSS reader. Nothing terribly new so far. The concept of lifestreaming however uses RSS to take all of these events on all of these activity streams and presents them in chronological order. Now I can get a much better picture of my friend and I can clearly see the pattern whereby he spends most of his time researching and bookmarking websites about scuba-diving, has arguments with his boss, listens to depressing music and heads out for a beer. Clearly its time for an intervention.
But lifestreaming is also interesting from the point of view of the producer as well as the consumer. From my point of view, I am really interested in meeting other people who like to think about these new technologies and how they can be used in fun cool ways. So I want to show people the types of things I am reading, thinking and writing about. When I find something interesting I bookmark it on Delicious and tag it as related to say lifestreaming. This helps others who are also interested in this area to find this information. When they do, they can see that I am also interested in the area and they can leave me a message through my website. Another advantage of lifestreaming is that it is a low effort way of communicating that interest. For example, it has taken me a half an hour to write this blog entry and now that you have read this far you know that I am interested in lifestreaming. You could have gotten the same information by looking at my bookmarks on Delicious and I could have spent my half hour doing something more productive like playing Civilization IV or shaving the cat.
There are a number of web-based applications that propose to help you create a life-stream by combining your activity streams from the various social networking websites. Mark Krynsky at the Lifestream Blog has compared many of these applications on a matrix that you can check out on his site. So over the weekend I began a slow march through each of the many applications searching for some html code that I could cut and paste and put into my website that would show visitors what I’ve been up to and show my Mom what I have not been doing. It was a disappointing exercise. Most of the applications did not offer an html badge that you can cut and paste into your website. Those that did (like FriendFeed) offered to display only a part of your feed through such a badge and even that was surrounded by an ugly graphic border that may match their website but which does not match mine. Search as I could I could not find an application that let me do what I wanted to do. In addition I began to get really annoyed by the requirement that my website visitors go to the application website to see my lifestream – imagine if half way through watching an embeded YouTube video on a blog, you had to stop and go to see the rest of it at YouTube. It felt all the more like a strong-arm tactic because this was my meta-data!
What these web-based applications need to realize is that their business is not in selling the steak, its my steak. Their business, to the extent that there is one in this space (and I think there is) is in selling the sizzle. The RSS activity feeds are the raw data – you need to do something special with that before you can require that people go to your site to view their own activity streams. Otherwise, someone will just put together a pretty nice model on Yahoo Pipes and then that’s it. You have to add value. Now I know that behind each of these companies there is a collection of cool guys trying to push the envelope and do something cool so rather than just complaining let me try and make a contribution. One way to sizzle the steak is to make the process of reviewing lifestreams more enjoyable. I began to think about this and after about 5 minutes I came up with the idea of a lifestream browser. And no Flock isn’t it – Flock shows activity streams by user per application – what we need is a web-based RSS reader that shows activity streams per user and per application.