This week, a global ransomware hack will make you WannaCry, Google’s I/O Conference, babies made from skin cells, Apple builds a new spaceship, and a pizza box, plus much, much more.
You can find the episode here.
This week, a global ransomware hack will make you WannaCry, Google’s I/O Conference, babies made from skin cells, Apple builds a new spaceship, and a pizza box, plus much, much more.
You can find the episode here.
You've heard it before-- This is the stuff of science fiction. But it's not. It's real and it's here and it's one of the surest signs that our civilization can take advantage of computing in new and powerful ways, including but not limited to robotics.
And Robotics is where this gets interesting. We've heard a lot of talk about advanced engineering-- robotics taking over jobs. With technology of the ilk described in this article, we could see robots being trained to build new machines that incrementally increase efficiency by increased automation. It's quite possibly the path to the end of work, which has been explored by both the Atlantic and the New York Times.
There are precious few people who have seen and comprehended enough of the rise of computing (and now mobile computing) to have some perspective on the industry’s mind-bending velocity. “The tools have just gotten so much better,” he says. “When I was working on the game for Electronic Arts, I did the entire development on the Atari 800 and it took me 45 minutes to do one compile off of a floppy disk which held a grand total of 380 kilobytes. Today I have a device in my pocket with can give me access to the world’s knowledge,” he says. “That is unbelievable–but I think we have lost the idea of the software artist. When the machines were much smaller, I did my game essentially as a one-man team. I did all the art. I did all the programming. I had one other engineer help me with some of the music. I have a friend working with EA today and he is probably working in a team of 120 engineers.”
Alison Burke wiring for. Too king's Now with Regard to the Manufacturing Question:
"...the predominant force behind losses in manufacturing employment has been technological change (85 percent), not international trade. As she explains, automation has transformed the American factory, and the advent of new technologies (like robotics and 3D printing) has rendered many low-skilled jobs unnecessary."
The fault is not with other nations, it is with ourselves.
Those without skills will lack the opportunity to earn the purchasing power necessary to fare well.
The solution? We must simply change course and do what we have not done in the past-- ensure that all have access to opportunity.
Make it easy to access, or affordable or vocational or whatever label one has to put on it but tie those qualities to a universal message that we all must have it and in doing so compete with one another for meaningful, gainful employment.
Clinton did poorly at making such a fact based appeal. Indeed the winds of discourse flew from these truths. On this issue, Trump's misrepresentation of America's trade deficits and outsourcing as the reason for US manufacturing's decline won the day.
The truth of this matter, however, is something we have yet to actually contend with.
From the AP and picked up by CBS News: Facebook's got some ambitions for hardware. But it's not much about designing and creating the next Facebook Phone...
The lab will be a space for engineers to design energy-efficient servers for Facebook data centers, test new laser mounts and drone propellers and perfect a prototype 360-degree video camera that Facebook unveiled at a conference in April.
I'm excited about what we'll see coming out of this space-- an island of physical creativity in a facility that's nearly completely dedicated to virtual space.
Over in Europe, where they hate technology, Charles Riley, writing for CNN Money, reveals findings from a new draft policy report that seeks to penalize corporations by taxing them on robotic manufacturing techniques. The report, headed by Mady Delvaus, a Luxumbourg representative to the EU Parliment, states in part that the EU should secure tax revenue from not people, nor corporations, but from the machines that corporations use to generate goods: Robots. Here are some choice quotes:
"The proposal suggests that robots should have to register with authorities, and says laws should be written to hold machines liable for damage they cause, such as loss of jobs."
"If advanced robots start replacing human workers in large numbers, the report recommends the European Commission force their owners to pay taxes or contribute to social security. The establishment of a basic income, or guaranteed welfare program, is also suggested as a protection against human unemployment."
Switzerland's government just held an open debate and referendum on a "basic income" and it was roundly rejected.
Back to the point-- taxing companies for their gains at efficiency is problematic. For nearly a century, the Western World has dreamt and worked toward an agenda of productivity that frees humans from the sort of physical toil that can lead to workplace injuries and long-term health problems by building machines that can take over those roles and perform them more efficiently. These efforts, in turn, lead to (1) better quality of life for workers, (2) positive economic growth as productivity rises and (3) fuels growth in the standard of living as manufactured goods and devices become cheaper.
Amazon.com uses just such robots to make sure they can deliver purchased items to users quickly, while saving valueable space in warehouses.
In the case of autonomous cars, we'll see less taxis on the road, and less drivers taking the wheel, which will likely lead to less costly accidents, less traffic, and less injuries. Stopping manufacturers from pursuing this course of action by throwing a new tax in the way of the efficiency incentives tied to this new technology is a bad idea.
Let's not forget what happened when Google was told by Spain that their service of helping people find news stories was going to be taxed: Google News went away leaving Spain's public less informed than the rest of their fellow EU citizens.
There is some good news nestled deep within this report. It suggests we implement Asimov's three laws on all new artificial intelligence devices. They're simple to understand and are as follows:
A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
Considering that the governments of the world have agreed to such pacts regarding Antarctica, chemical weapons, lasers, and even outer space, the above three principles shouldn't be too hard to agree upon.
Taxes, however, are an entirely different story.
Eva Dou for the Wall Street Journal:
"Beijing’s intellectual property regulator has ordered Apple Inc. to stop sales of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus in the city, ruling that the design is too similar to a Chinese phone, in another setback for the company in a key overseas market."
I was in Beijing a couple of weeks ago and on the subway I was surprised by the look of one Android phone that at first glance, looked like an iPhone 6/6S. It was white and it was everywhere.
Nathaniel Popper for the new York Times:
"But Microsoft is breaking the corporate taboo on pot this week by announcing a partnership to begin offering software that tracks marijuana plants from “seed to sale,” as the pot industry puts it.
The software — a new product in Microsoft’s cloud computing business — is meant to help states that have legalized the medical or recreational use of marijuana keep tabs on sales and commerce, ensuring that they remain in the daylight of legality."
Between LinkedIn and this, Nadella is forging ahead by noticing new, different and exciting opportunities for Microsoft.
An interesting take on how technology is changing the way we communicate. As Dan Bilefsky writes for the NYTimes, I find myself taking on that "get off my lawn" feeling when it comes to the apparent lost of the period. Things like apps within messaging apps (#8) aren't helping.
It's not made any easier by the fact that his piece doesn't use periods.
"Professor Crystal’s observations on the fate of the period are driven in part by frequent visits to high schools across Britain, where he analyzes students’ text messages
Researchers at Binghamton University in New York and Rutgers University in New Jersey have also recently noted the period’s new semantic force
They asked 126 undergraduate students to review 16 exchanges, some in text messages, some in handwritten notes, that had one-word affirmative responses (Okay, Sure, Yeah, Yup) Some had periods, while others did not
Those text message with periods were rated as less sincere, the study found, whereas it made no difference in the notes penned by hand"
Nilay Patel, writing for The Verge:
"I look at the Apple Watch and it's so obviously underpowered. We can sit around and argue about whether speeds and feeds matter, but the grand ambition of the Apple Watch is to be a full-fledged computer on your wrist, and right now it's a very slow computer. If Apple believes the Watch is indeed destined to become that computer, it needs to radically increase the raw power of the Watch's processor, while maintaining its just-almost-acceptable battery life. And it needs to do that while all of the other computers around us keep getting faster themselves."
I agree with him completely. But his argument is not impervious to critiques. As a close friend pointed out, the watch will get faster. Apple's moves to Watch OS 2 and native apps has helped immensely. And it's "a given" that future generations of the device will move more quickly.
But when I look at those truths, I remain unsatisfied. Patel's point is, in essence, that the watch was premature because the tech wasn't there in the first place.
It's slow and has barely OK battery life from his (a quite a few others') perspective. When you think deeply and critically about those drawbacks, you realise that Apple compromised on performance in order to get the thing to last through the day, and that compromise lead to a poor experience-- consistently labelled as "laggy" -- from Day One. That's the opposite of what we expect from Apple.
My 120mhz Pebble Classic does a lot less than the Apple Watch to be sure, but the interface remains snappy after myriad of software updates and the battery still lasts for days on end. Those attributes are ones that I consider more "Apple-y" than the experience that I felt when I owned the watch for a couple of days before returning it; and that Patel has concluded over the course of a year of usage.
When Apple lover and analyst John Gruber says he hopes Apple can "take a step back and reconsider some of the fundamental aspects to the *conceptual design,*" he's sugarcoating nothing less than severe dissatisfaction with the product and signalling that the iPhone+Wrist paradigm, with its gestures, buttons and swipes, and mostly-off screen doesn't make for a compelling device. When you combine his take and Patel's it sounds like they would hope that Apple chooses to make the watch less of a computer on the wrist, and more native to a watch experience- because this thing isn't working.
This is not just an Apple problem. Google-based watches suffer from the same soup of technical yuck. The fact that purpose built, fitness trackers are still a thing rather than being sidelined by last year's touch-screen wonder watches means that if Apple and others want to attract people with their take on this new category, they need to offer truly snappy interfaces (read: quick), along with long enough battery life so that users don't really think twice about it. Charge it every night, sure, but build it so an active person gets an perceptually unlimited amount of use from the thing during the day. Additionally it's got to feel durable enough for users to really not worry about scratches to glass and anodised paint, and yet retain whatever stylistic grace it's come to hold. And if it can't do these things, and do them soon, it needs to get cheaper.
Especially when they at Apple's leadership claim such devices have a lifetime of only three years.
Lucas Maney, reporting for TechCrunch:
"The company’s light field solution is a truly beautiful technology that may eventually be in every camera we snap a shot or video with. The tech essentially uses data on all of the available light in a photo to separate objects by depth and store them in a three-dimensional grid. In the future this technology will allow the simple creation of VR-ready navigable 3D spaces, but right now it’s enabling filmmakers the ability to achieve a level of detail and flexibility in gathering shots and making post-production edits that wasn’t previously possible.
Today, the company introduced Lytro Cinema, which is the company’s effort to woo those in the television and film industries with cool camera technology that makes their jobs easier."
Lytro's been around for a few years with some incredible imaging technologies. Novel though they may be, they've never quite "changed the game" in the consumer digital photography space.
So they're taking their wares to professional film. Their video talks a lot about the nitty gritty tech specs but at the end of the day, film makers should take away one thing and one thing only:
"When you have the ability to never miss focus, and the ability to change your relative position; and you can do that with a push of a button; you always get the shot that you want."
This means the Cinema imaging device is going to be something of a "halo" product for Lytro - something that allows moviegoers a new cinematic experience. Hopefully when they see the Lytro name or marketing they'll be drawn to purchase the sort of camera that makes use of the Cinema's techniques.
I'm excited to see this used in some sort of speculative fiction epic. Christopher Nolan, I'm talking to you.
“[Rift support] is up to Apple,” Oculus founder Palmer Lucky said. “If they ever release a good computer, we will do it.”
Palmer's definition of a “good computer” is one that can handle the demands of VR software. The issue is that these games and tools need a hyper-rapid frame rate in the range of 90-to-125 frames per second to prevent people from getting motion sick. The Oculus founder says that Apple just doesn't have an option on the market to meet that demand.
“It just boils down to the fact that Apple doesn't prioritize high-end GPUs,” said Luckey. “You can buy a $6,000 Mac Pro with the top of the line AMD FirePro D700, and it still doesn't match our recommended specs. So if they prioritize higher-end GPUs, like they used to for a while back in the day, we'd love to support Mac. But right now, there's just not a single machine out there that supports it.”
The clickbaity headline leaves one feeling like "thems fighting words." But once you read on, you realise that Apple really needs a product that allows the hardcore to be the hardcore vis-a-vis graphics.
This month Apple is bringing back the iPhone 5 in an SE (Special Edition) form factor because, presumably, not everyone wants a huge phone in their yoga pant pocket. I've got a 6S and I can't say that I disagree. Running is harder with this phone than any other iPhone.
Similarly, there is demand for the old-style tower Mac Pro. Call it the Mac Pro Classic or whatever, I'd happily give Apple $3k+ for a device that I could swap hardware in and out of. They've got great products but their push-up make things smaller and tighter has become frustrating for many. Now it threatens to leave them out of the game when it comes to the top brass of emerging VR tech.
Then again Apple could release their own VR solution and many would strongly consider it over the competition.
Caitlin McGarry, writing for PCWorld:
"Apple has admonished Google for violating user privacy with practices like mining emails for keywords to generate ad revenue. Now we know that Apple financially benefits from Google’s ad-targeting practices."
This quote (and the article's headline) strikes me as bothersome. First-- Google has a revenue sharing agreement with Apple on search ad revenue. They didn't cut Apple a check for $1 billion up front to exclude other search engines. The arrangement is performance-based. It doesn't seem as if there's any sort of barrier to MS's Bing outbidding Google for the same arrangement.
As for the quote-- this statement simply doesn't ring true. In fact, Apple's making money on search ads-- ads that have context based not on scanned emails but on terms that users input to a search engine for the purpose of receiving a contextually relevant response as output. The ads they receive are based on the search terms, not on scans of email or browser tracking.
Despite a growing consensus that today's households are saturated with human-interaction diminishing screen-time, Korean-based Samsung has decided that the solution to meaningful family interaction involves MORE screens, rather than less. Enter their new line of connected home devices:
1) The Samsung Activewash (TM) clothes washer includes a deeper and wider sink than last year's model, allowing users to pre-treat a load right on top of their washer rather than having to locate the unit near a sink. For Front-loading machines, Samsung has added a portal-like feature that allows one to pause the cycle and subsequently shove anything from a sock to a towel or pair of jeans through to add it to the wash. Both of these devices include new controls that are set in the middle of the lid rather than in the "difficult-to-reach" rear of the machine. But wait-- what abou the screens? Both types of machines feature wifi that allows them to connect to users' phones for notifications about cycle duration and status, as well as command and control of the machines.
2) For centuries, the kitchen has been the heart of technology in the home. We've shoved fire, ice, and water into the room and today take for granted that each appliance is something of a testament to both our oldest and newest food processing technologies. Taking that paradigm to a new level, Samsung has introduced a new version of it smart fridge. With its wifi-connection, apps and HUGE 21.5" screen, Samsung's smart fridge includes not only connectivity, but collaboration and interactivity. Citing the way the recent trend in stainless-steel finishes has removed the family's ability to use the refrigerator as a billboard for childhood art, important announcements, and novelties like magnets, Samsung has created several apps that allow families to use their smartphones to post not only images, but notes and other information on the fridge. In addition, the refrigerators can now mirror the content displayed on a user's Samsung Smart SUHD television set, so that they don't have to miss that critical moment of the Big Game while getting up to retrieve a drink or some snacks.
Not only does the fridge watch TV, it also contains robust grocery-shopping functions, that are designed to help contemporary families save money and time when it comes to keeping their homes stocked with food.
The most straightforward of these tactics is the fridge cam. Samsung have developed a system in which every time the users closes his or her refrigerator door, the machine take a photo of the contents of the cold Box. Users can gain access to the fridge's photos through the available Samsung app and use the image to determine what they need for the next week's stores,
At first glance there's a "who cares" reaction but apply a little thought and you begin to realize how much money (over time) you'll be able to save by checking the fridge before you buy. It's something we should all be doing before going to the store, but let's be frank-- the vast majority of us forget to. When you consider the fact that Amaricans throw out something like 45% of food, it's clear that we've got too much of it lingering in our fridges-- and some of that is from over-buying.
The second trick that this fridge has in store for its users is deep integration with MasterCard's vendor partners like FreshDirect. Through the fridge, you can buy groceries and have them delivered to your door. No word on what the delivery cost might be, but it's an interesting way to make good on Samsung's promise to deliver technology which provides convenience by saving both time and money.
3) The Smart TV got smarter. A lot smarter. Not only has Samsung added a complimentary USB dongle enabling support from their mid-2014 purchase of Smart Things, but the company has retooled the Smart TV interface to support a number of new and intuitive interactions.
The Smart Things dongle enables users to vocally command any device compatible with the Smart Things hub. With the device properly installed inserted into the side of the television set, the functionality seems to mirror Amazon's Echo, which also connects to various connected home devices platforms, including Smart Things.
The the interface update is perhaps more exciting. The Smart TV places content directly in front of users, rather than the typical app-enabled paradigm of having to click into an app in order to gain access to its content. Rather than opening Amazon Video and browsing the app, the Smart TV can lay out the trending content from Amazon or ESPN or any other connected service right as soon as the user selects that source of content.
Further more, the television is equipped with technology that empowers it to learn various remote functions quickly and easily so that your Samsung remote can easily become your only remote. On top of all thins functionality is Samsung's ability to quickly access devices attached to the Smart TV without having to focus on changing inputs. The television seamlessly move the user over to an Xbox One or, a Time Warner's cable system. That last bit's a boon to anyone who's ever wanted to hide or get rid of their clunky cable box.
On their own, all of these devices, with their robust feature sets and well honed interfaces would be compelling to even lead in their respective categories. working together, Samsung has put together a suite of devices that work well together and are accessed by the same app in a phone. This means users can just look for the Samsung brand on any of these electronics and assume that it's going to play nicely with their other Samsung devices.
Among other items mentioned were wifi connected...
...Which belies a significant marketing pain point: why aren't all of these devices protected under the very same brand. We've got the Galaxy phone and the Smart TV. The wifi-enabled stove and oven are all named with disparate brands. Would that I were in charge of marketing, it might be fun to rebrand the line of products to just read "Galaxy." This way phone owners would recognize immediately that this washer or TV, or other device was compatible with their phone.
But that would make too much sense.
Ever since iOS 9 showed up, my App Store app has been acting funny. Before upgrading my phone (due to certain reports, I waited until 9.1 arrived) the App Store would often display "Cannot Connect to App Store" on every screen but the update page. After upgrading.... Same thing.
Today, the page is just blank and it's been that way for a bit. But Quartz reported on a trick worth trying: "Tap on the tab bar of any item 10 times." They report that tapping on any item in the App Store navigation bar should clear the app's cache and get it working again. Further, this is apparently a fix for other Apple App's with caches, like iTunes and Watch's included app.
Why not allow users to clear caches in the app's settings page, which is clearly the most obvious place to put the tweak?
"Fitbit, an eight-year-old company, went public in June amid a wave of skepticism about the impact that Apple's new smartwatch might have on its business.
Yet Fitbit has consistently beaten Wall Street's earnings estimates in the second half of the year. On a conference call with analysts in November, Fitbit's CEO said the Apple Watch had "no material impact" on its business. And now Fitbit is proving to be one of the most popular gifts over the holiday season, a key period for gadget shopping.
Translation: Don't count Fitbit out yet."
While some may be surprised, Fitbit's resilience actually makes a lot of sense. The fact is that Christmas has always been about kids and kids today care about the one huge experiential offering that (1) Fitbit has focused on and (2) that Apple's never been able to get their products to properly exploit: Social.
Hop into the Fitbit app and one of the first things you'll notice is that the bottom navigation bar has four items. Two of them-- Challenges and Friends are not only in the Center, but they're easy to tap on because of that location. Challenges allows you to compete against specific friends for the day, weekend or week and friends is a more casual way to see what life is like on the leaderboard. As Apple's Watch is somewhat an "all things to all people" device, the lack of focus on that Fitness component is to be expected. But it's also something that Apple may be able to overcome.
Let's get back to kids. Kids are relatively irresponsible compared to their adult counterparts since they're still being raised. Parents factor this into their gift decisions. A) They break things. Which means if you're a parent that wants to support your post-Millennial, Generation Obesity child, and you can choose between an indestructible watch+fitness band for
B) They're forgetful so battery life matters because they always want to play with their device. The Apple Watch lasts about 20 hours with moderate use. The Fitbit HR counts battery life in DAYS. Sleeping over at a friends for the weekend and forgot your Fitbit charger? You'll be fine. Not so for Apple Watch.
C) Price is also a thing parents are concerned about. At $147 for the Charge HR (Amazon as of this writing) , a couple with two tweens or teens can get each of them a robust fitness device without breaking the bank.
D) Finally, the most important thing-- interaction. The Apple Watch is wonderfully compelling. For children, that's an issue. While a Fitbit HR quietly does its thing all week long; allowing youngsters to wear it in class with little to no distractions or associated drama, the Apple Watch, like all Apple products, wants you to play with it and to pay attention to it. This isn't because it's the One Ring or anything nefarious like that but because that's what happens when devices have touch screens-- users are compelled to touch them. To a teacher, that touching, no matter how meaningful, is fiddling with a distraction.
this isn't to say that Apple didn't have a strong showing this Christmas with their wearable. It's safe to say that they've trounced the Pebbles and Galaxy Gears and even Android Wear devices sales numbers this holiday. That's probably the more important target...not Fitbit.
"Instead, some industry watchers now believe there are enough wrists out there for both Fitbit and Apple to succeed — at least for this holiday season."
These devices -- especially the base models are inexpensive enough to own more than one. And in 2016, that's probably what's going to happen for a lot of interested consumers; especially when the second version of the Apple Watch debuts.
Who knows? Maybe they'll buy Pebble and become the "independent wearable company."
The cost of home broadband is just too high.
And paradoxically, we can't afford for it to be too high since:
(1) our economy requires rich connectivity to support its entertainment, software, and services-based sectors and
(2) young people need regular, cheap and abundant access to the Internet in order to become the workers and innovators of tomorrow.
The solution is simple: The broadband market must be made more competitive. Congress, in league with the FCC and the FTC can and should make this a priority.
Walt Mossberg on the tech of 2015:
"Perhaps the most disappointing new twist came from Apple's 3D Touch. In my iPhone 6S review, I said I thought it could become a big deal. But, so far, it hasn't seemed to take off. Maybe next year. Maybe never."
new 12" MacBook:
"The newest Mac is slow, overpriced, and has a keyboard some find tough to get used to."
Mossberg continues with a discussion about the resurrection of MS and the general "meh" surrounding the Apple Watch, along w/ similar wearables.
I'd agree with most of his assessment but for one thing-- the Amazon Echo. To be sure, it was m released to a pilot audience in (late) December 2014, but it changed my domestic life in 2015. The Echo has gotten better and better-- week after week and month after month without my ever needing to approve an update or download apps for it. Between its lightning fast voice recognition, growing library of content along with it's aforementioned seamless updates and robust IFTTT support (you can set custom voice command triggers), Amazon really felt like the Queen of the Cloud. What made the device stand head and shoulders above Apple's Siri and Google Now was the way the Echo was implemented, with seven microphones and a bunch of other kit, meant that I didn't need a phone nearby to take advantage of its functionality. I spoke to my house and it listened. I even picked up a second device for the bedroom to replace an app-enabled iHome clock radio.
Other smart/connected home devices like Piper NV and the growing suite of Belkins WEMO tools also came in handy, with the latter certainly integrating nicely with the Echo directly as well as with IFTTT.
It's true that the idea that every year needs a breakout super hit is part and parcel with what Paolo Bacigiulupi often "the Expansion Economy," in his work. It's a flawed measurement of success. Indeed for me, the Echo became indispensable (I very much want some version of it for my car), but like so many things, Echo is a remix of many ideas, implemented well. A revolution every hearsay make for great news cycles, but I'd rather tech giants take what they have, and refine it than drop half-baked moonshots at us all year long.
In a recent piece on his site, Daring Fireball, John Gruber (who inspired the format of this blog) layed out an effective response to anyone confounded over the price and purpose/scope of the iPad Pro:
"We’ve now reached an inflection point. The new MacBook is slower, gets worse battery life, and even its cheapest configuration costs $200 more than the top-of-the-line iPad Pro. The iPad Pro is more powerful, cheaper, has a better display, and gets better battery life. It's not a clear cut-and-dry win..."
At first, many complained that the iPad Pro was too expensive since it began at $700 ($200 more than a base model iPad Air 2) and that to add insult to this imagined injury, its storage capabilities are tiny at 32GB.
When you look at the device as a computer replacement however, the pricing begins to make a lot more sense to me-- especially since this iPad, with the Pro designation, is not marketed as a movie watching, comic reading, couch surfing device - it's meant for productivity. It's meant for work. It delivers on that front and that means as is the case with all well-used tools, it pays for itself.
Perhaps if Apple had called the device the "iMac Mini," or the "Mac Nano," there wouldn't be any confusion on these points. But they won't because it runs iOS rather than Mac OS, so it can't be a Mac. As Apple continues to develop two operating systems, iOS will have to struggle with growing out of the perception that iDevices are toys or field hardware to be synced up w/ a computer later; that they're the stuff of reading, and Instagramming and games. It's a marketing struggle, to be sure, but one which Apple will handle with aplomb, as it always does.
The iPad Pro is the first device to directly confront that struggle.