Posts tagged Technology

Surveillance is the business model of the Internet. We build systems that spy on people in exchange for services. Corporations call it marketing.

Bruce Schneier, security technologist, in a presentation at the SOURCE Boston conference.

Via Security Week:

The data economy—the growth of mass data collection and tracking—is changing how power is perceived, Schneier said in his keynote speech. The Internet and technology has changed the impact a group can have on others, where dissidents can use the Internet to amplify their voices and extend their reach. Governments already have a lot of power to begin with, so when they take advantage of technology, their power is magnified, he said.

“That’s how you get weird situations where Syrian dissidents use Facebook to organize, and the government uses Facebook to arrest its citizens,” Schneier said.

Over the past few years, it’s become easier and cheaper to store data and search for the necessary item rather than to sort and delete. Email is a very good example of this shift in behavior. This change, spurred by the popularity of mobile devices and the push to move more data and services to the cloud has also made it easier to track user behavior. When corporations track users for marketing purposes, it seems benign, but the same actions come across as sinister when it’s the government…

…The government didn’t tell anyone they have to carry around a tracking device, but people now carry mobile devices. The government doesn’t require users to notify any agency about their relationships. Users will tell Facebook soon enough, Schneier noted. “Fundamentally, we have reached the golden age of surveillance because we are all being surveilled ubiquitously.”

Somewhat related programming note: Read up on Heartbleed, change your passwords everywhere.

Dear subscriber, you are registered as a participant in a mass disturbance.

Via Vice:

That’s a text message that thousands of Ukrainian protesters spontaneously received on their cell phones today, as a new law prohibiting public demonstrations went into effect. It was the regime’s police force, sending protesters the perfectly dystopian text message to accompany the newly minted, perfectly dystopian legislation.

Via The New York Times:

The government’s opponents said three recent actions had been intended to incite the more radical protesters and sow doubt in the minds of moderates: the passing of laws last week circumscribing the right of public assembly, the blocking of a protest march past the Parliament building on Sunday and the sending of cellphone messages on Tuesday to people standing in the vicinity of the fighting that said, “Dear subscriber, you are registered as a participant in a mass disturbance.”…

…The phrasing of the message, about participating in a “mass disturbance,” echoed language in a new law making it a crime to participate in a protest deemed violent. The law took effect on Tuesday. And protesters were concerned that the government seemed to be using cutting-edge technology from the advertising industry to pinpoint people for political profiling.

Privacy as a Human Right?

Point, via The Guardian: The United Nations moved a step closer to calling for an end to excessive surveillance on Tuesday in a resolution that reaffirms the “human right to privacy” and calls for the UN’s human rights commissioner to conduct an inquiry into the impact of mass digital snooping.

Counterpoint, via Foreign Policy: The United States and its key intelligence allies are quietly working behind the scenes to kneecap a mounting movement in the United Nations to promote a universal human right to online privacy, according to diplomatic sources and an internal American government document obtained by The Cable.

Meantime, via Techrunch: Sir Tim Berners-Lee Blasts “Insidious, Chilling Effects” Of Online Surveillance, Says We Should Be Protecting Whistleblowers Like Snowden.

BBC Uses small remote-controlled helicopter for filming news report

Though not the first to use one of these helicopters for this purpose, the BBC is the most high-profile news site to put one into action. Will it change news reporting? What would you use it for?

As bleak as the industry sometimes seems, the news media can be profitable—but only if companies better serve their customers, transform their business models, and alter their financial time-horizons. That includes having the kind of patience that Bezos demonstrates at Amazon. Outlets that cuts back on basic services—especially reporting—will improve their near-term quarterly profit, but squander the future…At Amazon, Bezos didn’t just “crack the digital code” in a technological sense; he understood how the Internet changed the economics of serving consumers.

Julius Genachowski and Steven Waldman, New Republic, Newspapers Should Be More like Amazon: What Jeff Bezos can teach the Washington Post.

FJP: A positive take on Jeff Bezos buying the Washington Post Co. for $250 million dollars in cash, in the midst of many shocked reactions

Here’s a snippet of the e-commerce king’s letter to the Washington Post employees:

So, let me start with something critical. The values of The Post do not need changing. The paper’s duty will remain to its readers and not to the private interests of its owners. We will continue to follow the truth wherever it leads, and we’ll work hard not to make mistakes.

[…] There will, of course, be change at The Post over the coming years. That’s essential and would have happened with or without new ownership. The Internet is transforming almost every element of the news business: shortening news cycles, eroding long-reliable revenue sources, and enabling new kinds of competition, some of which bear little or no news-gathering costs. There is no map, and charting a path ahead will not be easy. We will need to invent, which means we will need to experiment.  Our touchstone will be readers, understanding what they care about – government, local leaders, restaurant openings, scout troops, businesses, charities, governors, sports – and working backwards from there. I’m excited and optimistic about the opportunity for invention.

NY Times to Release Gesture-based App 
via TechCrunch:

The New York Times says it plans to release a Top News app for Leap Motion, the soon-to-be-released controller that will allow users to interact with their computers through gestures — in fact, it will be the only branded news app for the platform’s launch.
In the case of The Times’ app, users should be able to browse articles by moving their hands left and right. Headlines, images, and summaries will be presented in a card format, and if you see something that interests you, you tap on the card to read the full article. You then scroll through the article by making a circular motion, and you shake your hand to return to the Top News menu.
For now, the app only includes top stories, and there’s no integration with the company’s subscription system. Paul Smurl, The Times’ general manager of core digital products, told me that if the app is popular, the team could go further, adding more content and a login system for Times subscribers.
[…] Apparently Times team members met with Leap Motion while at South by Southwest, and they were impressed by what they saw. The Leap Motion controller, Smurl said, “is much more fine-tuned and sensitive to hand and finger motions than some of the competing technologies out there. … It has enough fine motor sensitivity that a reading experience is enabled and it’s pretty damn good.”

Image: TechCrunch, screen still of New York Times On Leap Motion.

NY Times to Release Gesture-based App 

via TechCrunch:

The New York Times says it plans to release a Top News app for Leap Motion, the soon-to-be-released controller that will allow users to interact with their computers through gestures — in fact, it will be the only branded news app for the platform’s launch.

In the case of The Times’ app, users should be able to browse articles by moving their hands left and right. Headlines, images, and summaries will be presented in a card format, and if you see something that interests you, you tap on the card to read the full article. You then scroll through the article by making a circular motion, and you shake your hand to return to the Top News menu.

For now, the app only includes top stories, and there’s no integration with the company’s subscription system. Paul Smurl, The Times’ general manager of core digital products, told me that if the app is popular, the team could go further, adding more content and a login system for Times subscribers.

[…] Apparently Times team members met with Leap Motion while at South by Southwest, and they were impressed by what they saw. The Leap Motion controller, Smurl said, “is much more fine-tuned and sensitive to hand and finger motions than some of the competing technologies out there. … It has enough fine motor sensitivity that a reading experience is enabled and it’s pretty damn good.”

Image: TechCrunch, screen still of New York Times On Leap Motion.

UPS to Test 3D Printing Service

Starting in San Diego stores, the UPS Store will conduct its first test for 3D printing services. With Stratasys printers and production systems, UPS will offer the service to startups, small businesses, and other retail customers. Daniel Remba, small business technology leader at UPS, talked to Forbes about the service:

We conducted a poll using in our Small Business Panel (which consists of 86 businesses in and around San Diego) to gauge their interest in 3D printing. They listed multiple reasons for using the technology from artistic rendering to making prototypes. In addition, we found that many customers interested in 3D printing did not have skills or software to produce 3D files. So, we decided to test the service as a complete package from design to printing.

[…]Depending on the physical size and complexity of the object being printed, 3D print jobs can take anything from a few hours for simple projects to more than 24 hours to for large and complex projects. Similarly, we are also testing design services for customers. Our experience is that designing objects also depends on the mode and nature of interaction between customers and the designer. At our first test store in San Diego, the designer works with customers over phone, video conference, and in person.

Video: Youtube, The UPS Store’s 3D Printing service announcement (Runtime - 1:51)

Related: The fashion industry’s 3D printing experimentation and the 3D Burritobot prototype, which burrito connoisseur Jihii deems as “genius.”

Education Rethink: 11 Reasons Teachers Aren't Using Technology

Education Rethink, a blog run by John Spencer and Chad Segersten, found 11 reasons why teachers don’t use technology in the classroom. They include: fear, low self-efficacy, testing, consumerism, lack of leadership, inconsistent paradigms, personal experience, humility, lack of technology, lack of research, and most importantly it’s optional.

Spencer writes

I am not a fan compliance-driven leadership. However, in a culture of compliance, some teachers will only do what leaders mandate them to do. So, technology isn’t required. Somehow, we treat it as if it’s a matter of personal choice in a way that we would never do with pedagogy. Someone is still allowed to be a “good teacher” and use virtually no technology whatsoever. Failure isn’t an option, but irrelevance is. Somehow we’ve screwed up our priorities. Somehow we’ve allowed teacher comfort level to drive what we use with students.

U.S. students don’t measure up well with their math and science peers around the world. See, for example, these graphs concerning technology in the classroom. 

Student & Teacher Technology Requirements

Percent of 8th Grade Math Students Who Use Computers to Drill Math Facts

The Center for American Progress published a detailed report (PDF here, summary here), much like a company performs a Return on Investment (aka an ROI), to see if a new investment is making positive, worthwhile changes such as cutting costs or improving efficiency. 

Via American Progress

In the end, we almost certainly will not solve these technological issues through broad mandates alone. We instead believe that education policymakers should create performance-focused management systems that are flexible on inputs and strict on results. Successful organizations reward success, encourage innovation, and ensure the efficient use of funds. With a sharper focus on inputs such as technology and on outputs such as student achievement, we believe that schools will find the best bang for their education buck.

American Progress and others advocating for more technology in the classroom believe the tools are there, we just need to efficiently work them into the current system. 

Images: Visualizations from data gathered by the National Center for Education Statistics and American Progress

Coder Quits Job And Moves Into Tent To Work on Startup

Thomas Backlund is a coder who quit his job and moved into a tent in the woods near Stockholm just so he could dedicate his full attention to his startup project, blockie.io. Backlund powers his laptop, external battery, and phone with two portable Brunton 62 Watt solar panels, and cooks his food on a Primus OmniLite stove. Backlund provides updates about his experience on his website.

So, what’s a coder’s motivation to move to a forest to work on a tech project?

Via Mashable

Not only does [living in a forest] give me the time to do this but it also gives me peace of mind.

I change my location about two times per week.

Computer, forest, batteries… unpractical? Maybe it would have been more rational to keep the apartment and just cut costs?

Well, rational and right do not always align.

I have no apartment, no job, no income. Still I’m exactly where I should be. I’m on my path. My gut feeling lets me know that.

I’m not exiting to a normal life until my startup has taken off. This is my big adventure. I’m not coming back empty-handed.

Backlund has been in the woods since March and there are no reports of his startup receiving any investors yet. 

FJP: Maybe this Backlund fellow is onto something. After all, studies show that nature resets our minds and bodies and makes us more focused. Maybe we should all be creating our technology-based masterpieces in the woods or on a mountain top. I think I’ll start with a balcony, though. Baby steps. - Krissy

Images: Backlund’s personal photos from his website

Apple World Wide Developer’s Conference Typo

Filed under: What’s in an apostrophe.

Via The Verge:

Apple’s marathon keynote session at yesterday’s WWDC began with the following video. Graced by soothing piano music, a minimalist monochromatic palette, and a set of elegantly transitioning geometric shapes, the ad does a great job of conveying Apple lead designer Jony Ive’s pursuit of purity and simplicity in design. There’s only one small problem with it: when the onscreen narrative declares that “there are a thousand no’s for every yes,” it inserts an apostrophe where one does not belong.

Whether you consult the Oxford English Dictionary, The Chicago Manual of Style, or Dictionary.com, you’ll find the acceptable plural forms of “no” to be “noes” or “nos.” Apple’s unnecessary use of punctuation proves to be a rather ironic answer to the company’s own rhetorical challenge: “How can anyone perfect anything?”

FJP: If this tickles you, you might also enjoy The 7 Most Disastrous Typos of All Time.

Bing Now Translates Klingon Language 
Bing has just added Klingon, the language spoken by the Klingon warrior race of the Star Trek universe, to its language translator.
Via Mashable: 

Bing worked with the linguistics Ph. D. Marc Okrand who developed the language for the series. It also turned to 10 people who are fluent in the language to train the systems, as well as the Klingon Language Institute who assisted in the process.

Bing users can now even translate entire websites into Klingon.
FJP: I think I speak for everyone when I say: HIja’ tlhuchtlh! - Krissy
Image: Today I Found Out

Bing Now Translates Klingon Language 

Bing has just added Klingon, the language spoken by the Klingon warrior race of the Star Trek universe, to its language translator.

Via Mashable

Bing worked with the linguistics Ph. D. Marc Okrand who developed the language for the series. It also turned to 10 people who are fluent in the language to train the systems, as well as the Klingon Language Institute who assisted in the process.

Bing users can now even translate entire websites into Klingon.

FJP: I think I speak for everyone when I say: HIja’ tlhuchtlh! - Krissy

Image: Today I Found Out

Ray Harryhausen, Special Effects Extraordinaire, Passes Away
Ray Harryhausen, the man responsible for stop-motion animation in such films as Jason And The Argonauts (1963) and The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973), died at 92-years-old on Tuesday, May 7, 2013.
Via Huffington Post:

Though his on-screen credit was often simply “technical effects” or “special visual effects,” Mr. Harryhausen usually played a principal creative role in the films featuring his work. He frequently proposed the initial concept, scouted the locations and shaped the story, script, art direction and design around his ideas for fresh ways to amaze an audience.

Other than Harryhausen’s impressive ability to multitask in all areas of film production, his approach to animation was unique and notable in that he didn’t want his fantasy creatures to appear real to the audience. 
Via Mashable:

Two things for those of us weaned on CGI to notice here. Firstly, although these clay models are made to seem like living, breathing creatures, Harryhausen didn’t intend to replicate reality. He was looking for that curious, nightmarish effect stop-motion can have. “If you make fantasy too real,” he said, “it loses the quality of a dream.”

FJP: Harryhausen is being called “The Master of Stop Motion,” by NPR, “A Visual Effects Guru” by The Los Angeles Times, and the “Hollywood Effects Wizard,” by USA Today. But to an ex-film-school rat who spent a good chunk of her educational years analyzing and worshipping the pioneers of sci-fi special effects — he’s nothing but LEGEND.  And through his works of creative genius, his legend will live on. - Krissy
Image: Ray Harryhausen with some of his creatures, Huffington Post

Ray Harryhausen, Special Effects Extraordinaire, Passes Away

Ray Harryhausen, the man responsible for stop-motion animation in such films as Jason And The Argonauts (1963) and The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973), died at 92-years-old on Tuesday, May 7, 2013.

Via Huffington Post:

Though his on-screen credit was often simply “technical effects” or “special visual effects,” Mr. Harryhausen usually played a principal creative role in the films featuring his work. He frequently proposed the initial concept, scouted the locations and shaped the story, script, art direction and design around his ideas for fresh ways to amaze an audience.

Other than Harryhausen’s impressive ability to multitask in all areas of film production, his approach to animation was unique and notable in that he didn’t want his fantasy creatures to appear real to the audience. 

Via Mashable:

Two things for those of us weaned on CGI to notice here. Firstly, although these clay models are made to seem like living, breathing creatures, Harryhausen didn’t intend to replicate reality. He was looking for that curious, nightmarish effect stop-motion can have. “If you make fantasy too real,” he said, “it loses the quality of a dream.”

FJP: Harryhausen is being called “The Master of Stop Motion,” by NPR, “A Visual Effects Guru” by The Los Angeles Times, and the “Hollywood Effects Wizard,” by USA Today. But to an ex-film-school rat who spent a good chunk of her educational years analyzing and worshipping the pioneers of sci-fi special effects — he’s nothing but LEGEND.  And through his works of creative genius, his legend will live on. - Krissy

Image: Ray Harryhausen with some of his creatures, Huffington Post

Fashion Designers Experiment With 3D Printing
Fashion designers are using 3D printing to create garments, shoes, and accessories for their clothing lines. 
3D printers follow instructions of computer generated blueprints to create one layer of material at a time until a piece of clothing is fully formed. According to Weburbanist, soles and fasteners aren’t necessary in 3D printed garments because of the architectural specificity of the blue prints; the apparel is designed to fit an individual’s exact measurements.
The materials for 3D printed clothing and accessories are lightweight, flexible, and easy to produce, and Continnuum Fashion, a fashion start-up company, has already recognized the benefits of 3D printing their garments. Continnuum offers customers the option to design their own clothes to be printed in-house. The clothes are printed when the order is placed, so time and materials aren’t wasted.
Via Huffington Post:

In the past, when designers go to the trouble of manufacturing a dress, they have to be confident of selling hundreds to make the cost of production worthwhile.
But 3-D printing flips that idea on its head. The technology cuts a designer’s manufacturing costs to zero until a customer has ordered a garment. As a result, designers can now afford to experiment in small batches and sell apparel in limited editions.

FJP: Careful hand-stitching can now be replaced by code. And with Staples now offering mini-3D printers for your own home, does this mean that we’ll be ordering and printing clothes right in our offices? Ehhh. Probably not for awhile. 
Via Readwrite:

$1,300 for a hobbyist’s toy isn’t cheap. And that’s not counting the $50 per plastic cartridge holding 320 grams of material (0.7 pounds). Printing is expensive, whether it’s 2D or 3D.

Also, it can take HOURS to print a garment. And according to Mashable,  the larger 3D printers necessary to print a full size pair of pants can cost upwards of $14,000. (And I thought ink cartridges for 2D printers were overpriced.) — Krissy
Image: Weburbanist

Fashion Designers Experiment With 3D Printing

Fashion designers are using 3D printing to create garments, shoes, and accessories for their clothing lines. 

3D printers follow instructions of computer generated blueprints to create one layer of material at a time until a piece of clothing is fully formed. According to Weburbanist, soles and fasteners aren’t necessary in 3D printed garments because of the architectural specificity of the blue prints; the apparel is designed to fit an individual’s exact measurements.

The materials for 3D printed clothing and accessories are lightweight, flexible, and easy to produce, and Continnuum Fashion, a fashion start-up company, has already recognized the benefits of 3D printing their garments. Continnuum offers customers the option to design their own clothes to be printed in-house. The clothes are printed when the order is placed, so time and materials aren’t wasted.

Via Huffington Post:

In the past, when designers go to the trouble of manufacturing a dress, they have to be confident of selling hundreds to make the cost of production worthwhile.

But 3-D printing flips that idea on its head. The technology cuts a designer’s manufacturing costs to zero until a customer has ordered a garment. As a result, designers can now afford to experiment in small batches and sell apparel in limited editions.

FJP: Careful hand-stitching can now be replaced by code. And with Staples now offering mini-3D printers for your own home, does this mean that we’ll be ordering and printing clothes right in our offices? Ehhh. Probably not for awhile. 

Via Readwrite:

$1,300 for a hobbyist’s toy isn’t cheap. And that’s not counting the $50 per plastic cartridge holding 320 grams of material (0.7 pounds). Printing is expensive, whether it’s 2D or 3D.

Also, it can take HOURS to print a garment. And according to Mashable,  the larger 3D printers necessary to print a full size pair of pants can cost upwards of $14,000. (And I thought ink cartridges for 2D printers were overpriced.) — Krissy

Image: Weburbanist

So the next time you see a friend, or a child, spending too much of their day facing a screen, extend a hand and invite him back to the world of real social encounters. You’ll not only build up his health and empathic skills, but yours as well. Friends don’t let friends lose their capacity for humanity.

Barbara L. Fredrickson, professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina, The New York Times. Your Phone or Your Heart?

Via Slate:

Fredrickson poses a horrifying dilemma to the touch-screen generation: your phone or your heart. The more time we spend “bent over a digital screen, thumbing a connection to somewhere else,” Fredrickson argues, the more our biological ability to engage in “the world of real social encounters” withers away. In other words, with every <3 we type, we </3 a little inside.

Fredrickson came to this conclusion after conducting an experiment that tested how learning skills can affect a person’s capacity to connect with other humans. 

Via The New York Times:

Half the participants, chosen at random, attended a six-week workshop on an ancient mind-training practice known as metta, or “lovingkindness,” that teaches participants to develop more warmth and tenderness toward themselves and others.

Frederickson concluded that mediators felt more socially connected and that their vagal tone was “altered.”

(Vagal tone background info: Your brain and the vagus nerve are connected. The stronger your vagal tone, the stronger the connection between the vagus nerve and the brain — meaning your body can better regulate itself internally.)

Via Slate:

So people who engage in some new-age exercises enjoy some pretty trippy results. What does that have to do with your phone? Nothing, because Fredrickson didn’t enroll anyone in an iPhone-only lovingkindness regimen to compare vagal readings with the IRL set. She just assumes virtual communication is inherently less connected, friendly, and empathetic than the alternative. 

Even though Frederickson says technological communication is diminishing our capacity to “<3” each other in real life, she also notes that the human body and its behaviors are “far more plastic or amenable to change than most of us realize.”

If human potential is so plastic or amenable, then can we assume that our vagal tone could evolve to work with tech communication? According to Slate’s Amanda Hess, it already has.

Via Slate

The more we flex our thumbs, the more satisfying the emotional rewards. Just the other day, a wave of good feeling rolled through two brains and bodies at once as [my friend] Nathan and I traded jokes about op-ed writers with a scientifically unsupportable fetish for the IRL. If Fredrickson can’t see the human potential of the online friendship, maybe it’s because she hasn’t been looking hard enough. 

So, with such differing opinions and no real evidence that people become less or more empathetic with digital communication, whose side are we to take? Social media theorist, Nathan Jurgenson suggests: neither.

Via Society Pages:

I am proposing an alternative view that states that our reality is both technological and organic, both digital and physical, all at once. We are not crossing in and out of separate digital and physical realities, ala The Matrix, but instead live in one reality, one that is augmented by atoms and bits. And our selves are not separated across these two spheres as some dualistic “first” and “second” self, but is instead an augmented self. 

Healthy human communication can occur through digital communication AND face-to-face conversation. Yeah? Cool.

FJP: Some of my longest, deepest conversations have happened through a cell phone or an IM window. I’ve spent more than half of my 23 years communicating digitally rather than face to face. Oh my God — I knew I felt more apathetic and cyborg-ish than I did as a child. Now I know why. Now, step aside and allow me to destroy your humanity, one evil “LOL” at a time. — Krissy