Space Ramblings

Category Archives: Tech

Google Glass has Trouble with Scottish Accents

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No matter how ground breaking it’s supposed to be, like every other voice recognition system on earth, Google Glass doesn’t do Scottish well.

Not that Apple is any better at Scottish accents than Google.

Or any voice recognition really.

Did Microsoft Expect Windows 8 to Fail?

The numbers are in and Windows 8 is predictably in Vista territory. It didn’t have to be that way, but Microsoft insisted on killing any interest for desktop users by putting its mobile experience first and shoving the desktop experience into the back of the box.

Desperate to break into the mobile marketplace before it was too late, Microsoft put its crown jewels in hock, creating a competitive app marketplace by leveraging its massive desktop user install base for app developers. It was a clever, ruthless and stupid move. It got Microsoft the app development it wanted, while completely alienating desktop developers, especially game developers like Valve, which is now pushing into Mac and Linux territory, and which with Steam, has the leverage to force producers and developers to make more non-Windows game ports, and alienating desktop users.

But Microsoft had written off Windows 8 as a desktop environment from the start. The best evidence of that is how little effort Microsoft put into promoting Windows 8 to business users, who are the core of its OS business. Most end users get their OS with a new computer, without making any decision about it. Business users however make a decision to go with one platform or another and make everything compatible with that. And because of that business users are hard to sell on new OS’. With Windows Vista, Microsoft failed to sell business users. With Windows 8 it didn’t even bother.

Windows 8 continued Microsoft’s drift into becoming another Sony. With its game console business, its game publishing business and OS commercials that focus more on the low end casual user, Microsoft seems determined to reinvent itself as something closer to a company that sells personal entertainment appliances that happen to run its software, then a very successful software company.

But the PC isn’t dead. Sony is. And Apple is quickly tumbling. And Microsoft is wasting its goodwill and trashing its core business to imitate a company that is on the way out.

Seven Minutes of Terror

Give NASA some credit, without a whole lot to work with, a whole lot of people are suddenly excited by the new rover’s landing thanks to some elementary branding.

“Seven minutes of terror.” It’s not the cleverest piece of marking out there, but summer is a boring time and NASA hasn’t done much marketing before, so it worked. Everyone is putting up the video and staying glued to their seats as if this were an actual manned mission.

If JPL pulls it off, good. NASA has been all but dismantled and it could use some positive publicity. Politicians may fund NASA based on their own district priorities, but having people show interest in the mission makes it more likely that the White House and some key Senators will decide that having a functioning space agency around may give their image a boost.

And the almost clever part of “Seven minutes of terror” is that if they blow it, and it’s entirely possible that they will, the slogan will act as a justification for it. By emphasizing how daring and difficult the landing is, no one can lose. If it goes well, they’re heroes. If it goes badly, then they dared the impossible, which is what space travel is supposed to be about.

There’s something depressing about the revelation that NASA may not have much of a space program, but that all it needed to get people to pay attention to it was some marketing mojo.

Why I Hate Instagram Pictures

It’s strange how something can go from unawareness to loathing with enough saturation. I was never a fan of filters but I can see why people liked Instagram. It was an easy way to give photos a classic retro feel with warm tones and richer shadows. Some photos filtered through it are nice. But the sum effect of seeing every 10th image run through Instagram is feeling like I just took a time machine back to the 80’s and not in a good way.

Instagram

Not only is running photos taken on a megapixel camera built into an iPhone through filters that make them look like Florida vacation snapshots from 1979 stupid, but collectively it’s ugly.

Making the occasional music video look like it was shot on an 80’s video camera and then played with a bad signal over an old television is cool. Making every video look that way is ugly and a technoaesthetic breakdown that kills everything that has been accomplished since then.

The occasional 8 bit pixel tribute is cool, but not when every game is an 8 bit pixel tribute. Because 8 bit is limited and so is Instagram. Older technologies limit your range of color and the trueness of the image. It’s one thing to stylize the occasional image that way, but when you stylize every image, it’s not styling anymore, it’s the default look. It’s like everyone getting big hair, not as an ironic affectation, but because the affectation has become the style.

You can still get away with black and white photos because our black and white can do everything it’s supposed to. But Instagram everywhere turns photos into smears of color that date back to a look when image fidelity was problematic.

Imagine 20 years from now everyone is running their 100 megapixel 3D hologram photos through a filter that makes them look like oversaturated noisy iPhone photos from 2012. Wouldn’t that be ugly and stupid?

Library Porn vs Library Books

It’s a story as old as time. Library has patrons browsing porn on library computers. Other patrons complain about the porn. Library solves problem by installing some kind of privacy hoods on computers that will make porn users feel like Darth Vader and frighten off any complaining patrons.

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the old Times Square… now at your Library

In all the tireless debate over whether people have the right to look at porn in a library or not, no one asks whether libraries should really be spending money on porn terminals during hard times. And forget the porn thing.

When I walk into a library, it’s mostly people checking Facebook and playing Farmville or some other Zynga clickety click crap.

Last month I asked whether the transformation of the New York Public Library from book depot to teen hangout with Farmville stations really served its core mission?

I refused to support NYPL’s latest begging letter campaign because I see it eliminating book departments like crazy while buying laptops to loan out so people can play Farmville and watch porn. That’s not what a library is. Science Fiction sections have been eliminated or moved as far as possible in many libraries. And books are a library’s core mission.

the modern library

One guy watching porn, one guy playing a Zynga game. One guy watching FOX News. Who needs books anyway?

I’m sorry if some people don’t have a computer at home that they can use to play Farmville or watch porn. Maybe they can make their own Kickstarter. But if a library is going to have computers, they should be research terminals.

There’s no reason why funds should be diverted from books to subsidizing Farmville\Porn habits. And putting it special terminals for porn watching turns a library into the old Times Square. What’s next bringing in strippers to the reserved books section?

Moments like this are a wake up call for library and city officials who have to decide whether they want libraries to be places to find books or not.

Does the Internet Make Us Stupid or Does It Expose Our Stupidity?

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Salman Rushdie Meets Dracula

Twitter has made it no secret that most celebrities are dumb. Your favorite actor can play a rocket scientist but once he gets on Twitter and starts ranting about chemtrails he sounds exactly like your Crazy Uncle Frank because he really is no different than your Crazy Uncle Frank. He just has more money.

Being able to Tweet anything they’re thinking has empowered celebrities to expose their stupidity and destroy any myths we might have believed about their intelligence.

But it’s not just celebrities. Give anyone access to Twitter and they’ll act exactly like a guy debating whether Miley Cyrus is a whore on a YouTube remix of her video.

Anyone? Yes anyone. Take a look at Salman Rushdie jumping into the gun control debate after the shootings.

If you didn’t just get internet access yesterday,  you’ve seen this kind of debate happen 50,000 times. You just didn’t see it with an internationally acclaimed literary figure.

First make a joke that you think is clever in your head, but is actually kind of flippant and inappropriate, and not clever at all.

Then get defensive about it and pretend that you’re too smart to have said what you did say.

Then admit that you did say it, but it was justified because the issue was so important.

Finally leave in a snit while insisting that you’re the bigger person.

This isn’t about gun control. It’s about the internet and what happens when we get an open pipeline to type anything we’re thinking into our phone.

Forget all the studies, the internet doesn’t make us stupid. It shows everyone how stupid we were all along.

We’ve all acted like Salman Rushdie sometimes. Or actually Salman Rushdie acts like us. The internet tears away the illusion that famous people, no matter how smart they’re supposed to be, are any better than we are. We’re all the same when we get a Twitter account and under all the awards, the fame and the IQ points, we all end up sounding like idiots.

Why Digg is Dead

The Digg button once used to be as ubiquitous as the Facebook Like button is today. And now completing its final exit to oblivion, Digg has been sold for half a million dollars,  a fraction of the money that hopeful investors plugged into it. The official story is that Digg died because it was overshadowed by Facebook and Twitter.

That’s nonsense. Sure Facebook and Twitter drained some of the traffic out of the pool, but competitors like Reddit are still around. And Digg is deadBuzzfeed, which is just an uglier version of Digg, which hosts its own content, instead of aggregating to linked content, is doing well.

The problem with Digg is that it was never really a social community, it was a social media gaming forum. It was a game where you voted up things. It was gamed by power users and by everyone else until it stopped being a site where you went to see interesting things or kill 5 minutes over a lunch break and became a social media gaming grind.

Reddit works because it’s built around communities. Digg had no communities, it had factions and allies. It was EVE without the spaceships, but with the same drama. Everything that Digg could do, other sites could do better.

Want a list of goofy pictures and pop culture trivia geared to your hipster interests? Try Uproxx or Buzzfeed. You get the graphics up front instead of having to look at a white and blue interface. Want a community of people to yell at about politics, religion or Apple? Reddit has you covered. Or a bunch of other sites.

Want a place that looks like a social media version of an abandoned arcade game where no one is playing any more? Try Digg.

No the PC Isn’t Dead

It’s hip to kill things off and the PC has been killed off a lot of times. The new story is that the mobile star killed the Desktop PC. It didn’t. And it won’t be dead no matter how many stories run about the number of devices running iOS and Android.

The Desktop PC expanded into the dominant hardware platform and lives and dies by business usage. Businesses are not about to dead pchand iPads to their employees. Mobile devices are fine as point of sale and in any line of work where mobility helps. Park rangers, yes. Any business where you come in, sit at a desk and use a computer isn’t going to go mobile.

Workplace culture alone is a reason. Most companies don’t want employees randomly wandering around. Not unless there are customers in view.

Unless you can picture customer service, civil service and financial services going mobile, the Desktop PC isn’t dead. And that’s not all.

Any job that requires serious hardware, video editing, graphic design and audio processing is mostly going to stay with the PC. Mobile devices will go quad core and eight core, but programs get more resource hungry with each incarnation. Anything high-end will still need a desktop.

Gaming? Nope. PC Gaming is alive and well and mobile devices are never going to be able to do what PC games can. PC gaming graphics improve faster and consume more resources than its professional art and video pros. No matter how much mobile devices can do, the desktop PC will be able to do more, even with NVIDIA and Intel shifting resources to mobile device designs.

High-end mobile devices use more power. Even power saving chips still mean that any intensive applications are going to eat through power faster than trying to play three movies at the same time on your netbook.

The number of mobile devices will increase and the number of PC’s will drop. But there’s a hard limit to both and most people will eventually end up owning desktop computers, laptops, smartphones and a tablet. The PC isn’t being replaced, it’s becoming the core of a domestic cloud.

Mobile devices and game consoles can do some of what the Desktop PC does, but they can’t do all of it and they can’t do it better. Their advantage is that they free you from the chair and the desk.

The Race to Augmented Reality Glasses

Let’s start out by ignoring how stupid augmented reality glasses look. No amount of fitting them on attractive male and female models can do anything but make them look like rejects from a cyberpunk movie from the mid 90’s that plays at 3 AM on the SyFy channel.

What’s at stake with augmented reality glasses? Besides the title of Best Dressed Early Adopter Dork?google-glasses

Everyone wants to steal a jump on Apple and kick off a product line before Apple plants its flag. Google, which has played catch up with Android, wants to be there first with Google Glass. Olympus, which knows actual lenses, is jumping into the game too.

Now there are reports that Apple may be working on augmented reality glasses. Or it may just be filing patents. Steve Jobs would never have approved of augmented reality glasses and even without him, Apple needs to make them look cool. But that may not be doable.

What’s the problem?

Let’s start with the experience. The glasses Olympus is showing off allow 2 hours of continuous display. Google Glass probably won’t do much better. So don’t expect to go bouncing your hipster goggles around while listening to music all day, stalking friends and playing the ukelele for your girlfriend with camera vision. You won’t be doing it for long.

Battery power will get better, but limited display and power means that the cooler overlay possibilities that make augmented reality interesting aren’t going to be here yet. And is it really worth wearing Cyberpunk D4000xz glasses just to be able to see your email and Facebook updates without having to flip out your mobile device?

Forget the iPod. It’s likely that the augmented reality glasses that will first show up will be more like the Newton, interesting in concept, rich with possibilities, but not ready for prime time.

Microsoft’s Big Mobile Gamble

Microsoft has missed more mobile opportunities than any other company. Microsoft had more opportunities than any other company to get on the ground floor. Windows Media Player was widely used and could have functioned as its own version of iTunes. All it needed to do was design and deploy an MP3 player. But by the time that Microsoft got on the ball, it produced a better media player at a time when Apple had already moved on to smartphones. Now Microsoft is frantically playing catchup with smartphones and tablets and its only tool is its comfortable operating system monopoly.

Windows 8 is Microsoft’s big gamble. The company is leveraging its core product and gambling on being able to use it as leverage to muscle into the mobile marketplace. It’s what Microsoft tried and failed to do with the internet by tying Internet Explorer to Windows and using it as a gateway to MSN and its own web services. That plan failed badly leaving Microsoft with only a temporary Internet Explorer monopoly. Its plan to use Windows 8 to bring app developers on board and expand its mobile presence using its desktop presence may be an even worse idea. But it might also work.

Microsoft is late to the party once again. It has to compete with Apple and Google. Apple has the hardware and Google has the web services. Microsoft isn’t all that good at either one, but it’s trying to use its enormous cash reserves to catch up. But that didn’t work before. And by cutting the Windows 8 upgrade price to 40 bucks Redmond is endangering its core business cash flow and trying to push a product that will alienate core users to try and establish itself in the mobile marketplace.

The big questions are all about product. Even if Windows 8 is another Vista, if Microsoft Surface and the Windows 8 phone catch on, it won’t matter. And if users accept Windows 8, but Microsoft’s smartphone and tablet entries are another dud, it won’t be that much worse off than it was before.

But if Windows 8 is hated by users and Microsoft Surface and the Windows 8 phone don’t make a splash, then Microsoft is truly screwed.

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