Wednesday, February 20, 2013

google glass video

 Set to market 2014. Cool tool, but goodbye privacy, hello stilted social behavior and ego projection.
A phone camera is one thing, but glasses on all the time is quite another.

Monday, February 18, 2013

First bionic hand that can feel

by Steve Connor 

The first bionic hand that allows an amputee to feel what they are touching will be transplanted later this year in a pioneering operation that could introduce a new generation of artificial limbs with sensory perception.

The patient is an unnamed man in his 20s living in Rome who lost the lower part of his arm following an accident, said Silvestro Micera of the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne in Switzerland.
The wiring of his new bionic hand will be connected to the patient’s nervous system with the hope that the man will be able to control the movements of the hand as well as receiving touch signals from the hand’s skin sensors.

Dr Micera said that the hand will be attached directly to the patient’s nervous system via electrodes clipped onto two of the arm’s main nerves, the median and the ulnar nerves.
This should allow the man to control the hand by his thoughts, as well as receiving sensory signals to his brain from the hand’s sensors. It will effectively provide a fast, bidirectional flow of information between the man’s nervous system and the prosthetic hand.

“This is real progress, real hope for amputees. It will be the first prosthetic that will provide real-time sensory feedback for grasping,” Dr Micera said.

“It is clear that the more sensory feeling an amputee has, the more likely you will get full acceptance of that limb,” he told the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Boston.
“We could be on the cusp of providing new and more effective clinical solutions to amputees in the next year,” he said.

An earlier, portable model of the hand was temporarily attached to Pierpaolo Petruzziello in 2009, who lost half his arm in a car accident. He was able to move the bionic hand’s fingers, clench them into a fist and hold objects. He said that he could feel the sensation of needles pricked into the hand’s palm.

However, this earlier version of the hand had only two sensory zones whereas the latest prototype will send sensory signals back from all the fingertips, as well as the palm and the wrists to give a near life-like feeling in the limb, Dr Micera said.

 “The idea would be that it could deliver two or more sensations. You could have a pinch and receive information from three fingers, or feel movement in the hand and wrist,” Dr Micera said.

“We have refined the interface [connecting the hand to the patient], so we hope to see much more detailed movement and control of the hand,” he told the meeting.

The plan is for the patient to wear the bionic hand for a month to see how he adapts to the artificial limb. If all goes well, a full working model will be ready for testing within two years, Dr Micera said.
One of the unresolved issues is whether patients will be able to tolerate having such a limb attached to them all the time, or whether they would need to remove it periodically to give them a rest.

Another problem is how to conceal the wiring under the patient’s skin to make them less obtrusive. The electrodes of the prototype hand to be fitted later this year will be inserted through the skin rather than underneath it but there are plans under development to place the wiring subcutaneously, Dr Micera said.

Friday, February 15, 2013

First bionic eye gets FDA blessing

First bionic eye gets FDA blessing

Bionic eye system uses video camera, electrodes, a microprocessor and wireless communications to help blind see

By Layer 8 

The US Food and Drug Administration today approved what it says is the first bionic eye, or retinal prosthesis, that can partially restore the sight of blind individuals after surgical implantation.
Clinical trials demonstrated that totally blind individuals could safely use the device to successfully identify the position and approximate size of objects and detect movement of nearby objects and people, the FDA stated.

Specifically the  Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System includes a small video camera, transmitter mounted on a pair of eyeglasses, video processing unit (VPU) and an implanted artificial retina. The VPU transforms images from the video camera into electronic data that is wirelessly transmitted to the retinal prosthesis.   The pulses travel to the optic nerve and, ultimately, to the brain, which perceives patterns of light and dark spots corresponding to the electrodes stimulated. Blind individuals can learn to interpret these visual patterns and ultimately should improve a patient's ability to perceive images and movement, the FDA stated.

The systems is aimed at helping those afflicted with a disease known as retinitis pigmentosa, which is a  genetic eye condition that damages the light-sensitive cells that line the retina, the FDA says.  The National Institutes of Health to affect about 1 in 4,000 people in the United States.  " In a healthy eye, these cells change light rays into electrical impulses and send them through the optic nerve to the area of the brain that assembles the impulses into an image. In people with retinitis pigmentosa, the light-sensitive cells slowly degenerate resulting in gradual loss of side vision and night vision, and later of central vision. The condition can lead to blindness."

The artificial retina, dubbed the Argus II Retinal Prosthesis System was developed and manufactured by Second Sight Medical Products Inc., with significant investment - over $100 million from the US Department of Energy National Laboratories, National Eye Institute at the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.

The DOE notes that other bionic eye projects are under way in the United States Germany, Japan, Ireland, Australia, Korea, China, and Belgium. "These programs pursue many different designs and surgical approaches. Some show great promise for the future, but have yet to demonstrate practicality in terms of adapting to and lasting long-term in a human eye. Thus far the projects that have progressed to clinical (human) trials are the collaborative DOE effort, a project at the now-defunct Optobionics (Chicago), and two efforts in Germany at Intelligent Medical Implants AG and Retinal Implant AG," the DOE stated.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

‪Rappin' for Jesus‬


Regarding controversy over use of the 'n' word.
Be sure to listen to the audio in the right panel.


And, here's one English teacher who had to offer his own explanation to differentiate the two words: more to challenge how this word gets used:

2 Nigga or Not 2 Nigga

The defense for using the slang 'nigga' is usually based on the notion that the black culture is entitled to reclaim the word and that they alone have that right because it has been used abusively against them.

On the other hand, for non-blacks who are raised by families who educate their children about the history of slavery and racial violence, the derogatory word 'nigger' or 'nigga' is considered profanity and is offensive, regardless of who is using it. Accusations of racism directed towards such individuals are highly offensive and liberal use of the word 'nigga' or 'nigger' can be considered insensitive and even a form of racism, as though the logic is that a profane word can be used in their presence simply because they are white (or non-black), as though they deserve such disrespect because of their guilt by association.

Whites have even been accused of voting for Barack Obama based on "white guilt". For some so called 'liberals', this may be true - the fear of being accused of racism by mere association - to the point of bending themselves into submission rather than assuming a position of integrity, whereby they begin aggressively accusing others of all forms of discrimination and finding ways to employ the line of attack for political gain. Democrat or Republican, both parties seek out voting blocks and pander with whatever symbol people will buy. Republicans are really jumping on the Latino vote. Nothing against Latinos, but what's the real agenda? Power?

But, back to 'nigga'...

Is the assumption by blacks who use the word 'nigga' in front of whites that all whites are racists who need the word taken from them? Or that they deserve disrespect as a form of emotional reparations for the wholesale acts of abuse committed by members of their race? Is it really that conscious an act of defiance? It always sounds so casual. Is it possible that blacks use the word 'nigga' because it means black and they identify with the word culturally in the context of living in a largely white country? It's comical when I hear a black person saying 'get your black ass over here' or 'you're as black as the ace of spades' - there is certainly a cultural preoccupation based largely on being a minority, a different focus from being oppressed.

Further, racial accusations made for gain - aka "playing the race card" - are doubly offensive. For an English teacher whose job is to correct language and make those who are uneducated conscious of their use, I think this guy has some balls, common sense and humor, but the system doesn't know how to address this issue formally without fearing lawsuits. In this case, the guy was suspended for ten days.

And that's how institutions and countries can be controlled, that's how the British Redcoats who marched in rows out of convention of honorable warfare were picked off from behind the trees by Americans in buck skins. What Somali pirates? We look the other way when we run the risk of overstepping our territory or infringing on others, sometimes at great costs. Sometimes we have to pick our battles. Discernment. Hostility. North Korea makes threats and we ignore them or the UN 'strongly condemns'. China? Tick tick tick.

OK, back to 'nigga'...

To put everything into context, the use of the word 'nigga' is largely recognized as popular jargon by people of any race or ethnicity, so with a little common sense and a sense of humor, one can afford to take it for what it's worth  -while also keeping it in context - and should not be offended, right? Yet, the double standard erupts into question constantly, and calls for reconciliation. Muslim extremists never took an ambiguous stance on making cartoons about Allah, only to go off and run a strip or gag panel in Al Jazeera. It's the elephant in the room, and depending on which generation someone is born into, I've encountered whites who do not understand the pop reference and who find the videos outright offensive. I could not adequately explain how it could possibly be justifiable or funny, the word is so taboo. But new generations move forward and we adopt new practices and perhaps this represents progress.

I must admit, I find the fist bump self-defeating, but it gets offered up daily by people of all races and ages, though it is associated with street culture and hip-hop. At times, I've offered a handshake and have been met with a closed fist in response, which frankly reads as a form of 'no agreement'.  Granted, if someone offers the fist first, I've been inclined to respond in kind, or even simply lay my hand over the fist in some vain effort to symbolically turn the tide of disconnection. Is it really about not having clean hands on the street, so I've heard, or is it more about the symbol of the fist? Wasn't the intent of the handshake to establish a means of demonstrating safety and trust between strangers, that each party is not holding a weapon in their right hand? Or is it simply the less gushy form of a hug, as people suggest when describing the proper amount of pressure to exert in a handshake. Maybe I'll start toting some hand sanitizer and we'll all begin bonding again, because clearly as Americans we all just want to cuddle. Wiki has a few ideas about how fist-bumping came about.  Maybe the East has it right - just bow, but be sure to keep your eyes on the other person.

Regardless, words and gestures are all part of the meme pool and people adorn themselves with these expressions largely without thinking because they are constantly surrounded by the requirement to make such exchanges. How much thought really goes into collective behavior afterall?

For the sake of establishing a public standard of use, if blacks truly want the word 'nigga' all to themselves, they should only use it in front of each other or around non-blacks they know well, and should otherwise be respectful of non-blacks around them, some or even many of whom have been raised with values that shun the word altogether, else they are just as guilty of insensitivity or racism.

This rule-making is no fun, I know, but what's a non-nigga gonna' do in this politically correct society? I propose we form our own society for reform to stop using the word altogether. Nigganonymous (Nigganon). 

I must say, being such a forbidden fruit and such a funny sounding word, once you take a bite out of the nigga apple, it's hard to stop. Just rattle of a few lyrics from whatever popular album and you're on the hook, beats and all. Nigga-Naks - bet you can't eat just one (hypothetically speaking, not me of course, I'm just sayin').

Otherwise, we will continue to turn to pop-culture to dare and beg the question, to hash out the parameters of what is or is not offensive, to decipher whether it's OK to laugh, and to set a standard as to whether we should remain so serious as to bring law suits and violent threats on just a hair trigga.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Smart watch

The Apple iWatch

The iWatch will fill a gaping hole in the Apple ecosystem. It will facilitate and coordinate not only the activities of all the other computers and devices we use, but a wide array of devices to come. Like other breakthrough Apple products, its value will be underestimated at launch, then grow to have a profound impact on our lives and Apple’s fortunes.
Steve Jobs’s true legacy lies not with his products, but his method, the way he would forge revolutionary products from cold blocks of creativity. I know. I was one of his earliest recruits and watched him develop the method. Steve applied it one project at a time.  My hope is that Apple now has teams applying it across many projects, shortening the historic six years between breakthrough products.
What will follow is not based on insider information but a solid understanding of Apple, its products, the problem, and the opportunity. The Apple iWatch development team I expect exists is likely already well ahead of the ideas I’m suggesting here. (Should they draw any new ideas from what follows, they are free to use them.  I’ve already reached my lifetime goal of as many patents as Heinz has varieties.)
Before delving into what an Apple smartwatch might look like, we need to understand why, right now, people not only think they don’t need a smartwatch, they flat-out don’t want a smartwatch.

The Smartwatch

I’ve found a traditional smartwatch’s extra functions neatly divide into those I don’t need and those I can’t find.
Traditional smartwatches are big and clunky.  They require charging. (I haven’t had to remove my “dumb” watch from my wrist in four years.) I can’t read a smartwatch at night without using my other hand to turn on the light.  I can’t read a digital watch at any time without the use of reading glasses, nor can most people over 45, which is why the big hand and the small hand continue to go around together on so many watches.  What’s worse, I’ve found a traditional smartwatch’s extra functions neatly divide into those I don’t need and those I can’t find. I can live without a smartwatch.
Recently, some startups have addressed a few of the smartwatch’s disadvantages.  They noticed that people are now carrying around a decent-sized screen with a whole bunch of virtual buttons—their smartphones—so smartwatches no longer need display everything and offer access to every option within the watch interface itself.  Bluetooth 4.0 enables low-power communication without draining the watch’s battery, making smaller size and longer running times possible.
The Cookoo watch, for example, will last for a year between battery changes. It doesn’t do a great deal, but what it does do is quite useful.
Cookoo Watch
The Cookoo Watch
The Pebble, while it offers much more than the Cookoo in terms of functionality, lasts about a week before demanding removal for charging. That’s longer than smartwatches used to go, but hardly compares to what people expect in a modern watch.
The Pebble Watch
Martian has combined the large, somewhat clunky styling of the traditional smartwatch (albeit in a great many color variations) to offer the greatest pass-through power from the smartphone.  The result is Dick Tracy’s two-way wrist radio:  Ask Siri to call someone, and you can talk with them through the speaker and microphone in your watch, all handled via Bluetooth by your phone.
The Martian Watch
The Martian Watch
The Martian sports two hours of talk time, although the watch itself will keep running after that. You’ll certainly need to get in the habit of charging it every night.
These and others of the new generation of smartwatches are certainly very attractive to early adopters, but don’t expect them to smash the market open.  That’s going to require an entirely different level of both functionality and perfection, just the sort of thing for which Apple is famous.

Removing Smartwatch Drawbacks

The first thing Apple has to do is address traditional drawbacks in smartwatch design, something they are qualified to do.
Charging. If you think about it, there isn’t actually a charging problem at all.   Never has been.  Instead, there’s a having-to-remove-the-watch-from-your-arm problem. What if you held a patent on a charger that could charge an object that is several feet away through the air wirelessly? Apple holds such a patent.
The usual drawback to remote charging is that it is not efficient, but if the watch doesn’t require all that much power to begin with and will shut down the charger when it is full, the process can be relatively inefficient and still not cost you much money or the nation’s infrastructure much energy. (We spend lots of money/resources on inefficient power sources all the time: One AAA cell for your TV’s remote control costs around fifty cents.  It holds around 1.4 watt-hours of energy.  Not kwhs, whrs.  You would have to spend $25 to $50 on AAA cells to equal a penny’s worth of the power you get out of the wall.)
Clunky design.  Two reasons clunky design wouldn’t be a problem for Apple.  The first and foremost: Jonathan Ive.  Second:  Apple’s recent patent on a low-cost method for creating curved glass for screens. Apple can create a smartwatch with revolutionary functionality that is drop-dead gorgeous.  Is there any doubt they will do so?
Buttons & menu trees.  Won’t be any.  Why?  One good reason: Siri.  Whatever the watch can do, you’ll be able to put in place by commanding it (with your iPhone and the Siri back-end handling the actual mechanics, of course): “Set timer for 22 minutes.” “Wake me at 6:15,” etc. Whatever the watch can display, you’ll be able to bring up just by asking: “How long before my plane takes off?” “What’s the temperature right now in Dubai?”
Siri will be accompanied by touch, of course, with touch handling the lighter tasks, Siri the more complex. There will be overlap, so you can use more complex touch maneuvers when you can’t speak to your watch, during a meeting perhaps or when there’s a lot of ambient noise. Many people will never learn the more complex maneuvers, nor will they need to as the iPhone, iPad, and Mac will offer simple alternative interfaces to the more complex tasks.

The iWatch as facilitator/coordinator

The iWatch will have a few functions it performs entirely on its own, chief among them being telling you the time.  It’s chief role will be that of office manager, facilitating and coordinating your use of your other iDevices and the Internet by gathering data, delivering messages, storing and forwarding, coordinating tasks, and carrying out functions that extend the capabilities of your other devices. The iPhone or other primary device will be the executive in charge, making the decisions, setting the strategy, and apportioning tasks. The watch will have the least energy resources available, so the watch will be used sparingly.  Still, as time goes on, more uses will be found for it, and it will receive increasing amounts of traffic.

The Killer Applications

The iWatch can and should neatly fix the two most serious problems we have with our current mobile devices, ones we may not even realize we have. Only Apple holds the necessary keys to address the first of these, so only Apple will.
The paradox of the “huge problem”: A problem that feels sufficiently insurmountable will appear the product of natural law, to be accepted rather than challenged.
The two killer applications are neither sexy nor fun, but they will make our lives so much more pleasant.
Passcodes.  The watch can and should, for most of us, eliminate passcodes altogether on iPhones, and Macs and, if Apple’s smart, PCs: As long as my watch is in range, let me in! That, to me, would be the single-most compelling feature a smartwatch could offer: If the watch did nothing but release me from having to enter my passcode/password 10 to 20 times a day, I would buy it.  If the watch would just free me from having to enter pass codes, I would buy it even if it couldn’t tell the right time! I would happily strap it to my opposite wrist! This one is a must. Yes, Apple is working on adding fingerprint reading for iDevices, and that’s just wonderful, but it will still take time and trouble for the device to get an accurate read from the user. I want in now! Instantly! Let me in, let me in, let me in!
Apple must ensure, however, that, if you remove the watch, you must reestablish authenticity. (Reauthorizing would be an excellent place for biometrics.) Otherwise, we’ll have a spate of violent “watchjackings” replacing the non-violent iPhone-grabs going on today.
If the watch would do nothing but free me from having to enter pass codes, I would buy it even if it couldn’t tell the right time!
Individuals or companies that demand a higher level of security can require both the presence of the watch and a passcode, aka, two-factor authentication. Even that could be made a lot less onerous, again optionally, if, when at work or within your own house, the security software would be allowed to lift the requirement for the separate passcode, only applying it when you are out and about.
Find iPhone. The current “Find iPhone” is a well-implemented solution wherein you can find your iDevice no matter where it has wandered on the globe, as long as it is turned on and no one has messed with it.  However, it is not exactly as simple procedure:
  1. Find yourself another iDevice or computer
  2. Log in
  3. Open Find iPhone or point a browser to
  4. Wait while signals are sent through the ether
  5. Select the device you want from the map or list
  6. Click “Play sound”
  7. Find the device you’re looking for & dismiss alert
  8. Delete the follow-up email
That’s a lot of steps! Better that your iDevices never get all that lost to begin with. Two additional capabilities, facilitated by the iWatch, can help ensure you never need that long-distance capability.
Local Find: As long as your device is close by, just scrawl a question mark on the top of your iWatch or perhaps ask Siri, “Where’s my phone?” and your phone will light up and start chiming. Of the eight steps above, you need perform only step seven. (You would find your iPod or iPad the same way, of course.)
Automatic Find: By the time you realize you have left your top-secret prototype iPhone sitting on the bar, Gizmodo will have probably already published an article on it. However, with the iWatch on your wrist, as soon as you move out of range, it will tell you that you’ve forgotten your phone, then help you locate it, as needed.  That’s a lot more useful than waking up the next morning to discover you seem to be missing something, only to then press Find iPhone into service. (The Cookoo watch already has at least the reminder part of this feature.)
Extending the range: Bluetooth Low Energy is supposed to have a range of 50 meters or 160 feet.  Presumably, that’s in an open field with a tailwind.  In your home or work place, your watch could end up driving you nuts if Apple doesn’t provide an intelligent means of expanding the virtual bubble so the alarm doesn’t go off anywhere in your safe environment. The system will need to “know” you’re in one of your secure areas, warning you only if you start to drive away without one of your devices. This could be handled, perhaps, by repeaters embedded in devices such as Apple Airports.  In homes and businesses with multiple repeaters, your watch could then also give you a local “read” on what repeater your device is near.

The New New Things

Phone call facilitator. Your iWatch vibrates. You glance at the watch and see who’s calling. You swipe up twice, indicating you want to answer (or some other standardized gesture). Your caller is asked to, “Wait one moment, please” while your watch instructs your phone to light up and start ringing to help you find it (or just lights up—your choice).
Many of us, of course, would like more, however, the iWatch as speakerphone peripheral for our iPhone is much less likely to happen. Of course, it would be cool: Let’s face it, Dick Tracy had a two-way wrist radio, and we want one, too! Imagine asking your imaginary friend, Siri, to call one of your real friends, Bill, then having a conversation, all without actually reaching into your pocket for your phone. However, the iWatch is going to be all about energy management. The Martian watch, for all its bulk, can squeeze only two hours of talk-time out of a charge. Martian will likely be left to pursue that market on its own.
Sensors. The iWatch will incorporate a variety of sensors. Certainly one thrust of these sensors will be sports/health data capture, inferring walking based on arm swing, detecting climbing or diving based on a pressure sensor, etc., etc. The more sensors, the better. A temperature and pressure sensor pressed against the skin could prove useful for medicine. A proximity sensor will let software “know” whether the watch is hidden in a sleeve or under a blanket. Whatever combination of sensors ultimately make their way into the product will inevitably lead to some very interesting new applications that people may have yet to consider. Other iDevices will combine the iWatch sensor data with data from their own sensors and from the outside world, such as weather data, to form a complete and complex picture.
Near Field Communications for Payment.  The conventional, collective “vision” is that, soon, we will all pay our bills by simply reaching for our phone, a phone that, for around half of us, is lost somewhere deep in the recesses of a purse, retrievable in around one minute and thirty seconds. With luck. Think of the time those folks will save over paying with their wallet, a much bigger and more obvious object that they actually had to move out of the way in their effort to find their completely invisible black phone!
Oh, yeah, they won’t save any time at all.
Of course, we guys are a lot more clever. We’ll slide our phone right into our breast pocket where, heh, heh, we can get at it instantly. Or could have if we hadn’t then put on a turtleneck sweater before putting on and zipping up our jacket.
Next time, we’ll just pay cash.
And then there’s getting on the subway:  Instead of having to slide that paper card we buy once a month into the slot, all we’ll have to do is wave our $800 iPhone over the little sensor, except that nice gentleman we hadn’t noticed standing just to our side just grabbed our $800 iPhone and is now hot-footing it out of the station with us trapped on the wrong side of the turnstile.  Huh!  That didn’t work out so well!
Just last week, our kid had to struggle to get his phone out of his backpack to pay his bus fare using his marvelous NFC chip, only to have it stolen the same way! If only there were a better solution! Oh, yeah. There is.
The NFC chip belongs in the iWatch, not in the iPhone! That way we’ll know exactly where it is at all times, strapped to the end of an appendage expressly designed to be waved around at things.  How handy! Reach. Touch. Done.
Meanwhile, our iPhone, handling any necessary communication, will stay hidden safely away, and, if someone does manage to get ahold of our watch, it will require reauthorization, having been removed from our arm.  Net value to the thief: Zilch. Net loss to us: A whole lot less than an iPhone, with word on the street quickly making it clear there’s no point in stealing an iWatch.
Of course, not every merchant will accept NFC right away, so the watch, linked to Passport, will also display QR codes, etc.
Music. The Pebble is already handling music functions, which, of course, an iWatch would likewise be expected to do, just as the earlier generation iPod mini would do when embedded in an after-market watch-like case. The Pebble, however, is acting solely as a controller to—facilitator for—the user’s iPod or iPhone, rather than acting as a music device on its own, saving its battery life. The iWatch would be expected to follow this same path.
Telling the time. Yes, it will tell the time, likely offering a familiar Swiss Railroad watch face as an option, and it will tell the right time, too:  By communicating with the iPhone, it will update to changing time zones, etc., as the phone updates, eliminating—or at least reducing—the need for manual intervention, a major bother with current watches.
When Apple really gets serious about integrating Passbook, your watch will “know” when you’ve boarded that plane to London:  You were scheduled to board, the phone’s GPS locates you at the airport, and you just now turned off your phone.  Yesterday, the watch will have offered you an easy way to switch to split local/London time and, now that you’re aboard the plane, will be prepared for you to flip to just London time with a single touch.

The Apps

There will be tens or hundreds of thousands of apps, few that either the designers of the iWatch (or I) will have anticipated. Almost all will actually run on the larger iDevices, extracting data from the iWatch, displaying data on the iWatch, or making use of the iWatch as facilitator.

The Unexpected

At least one or two evil apps will slip past the Apple watchdogs, launching a feeding frenzy in the press.  Apple will have already limited how much data a given app can access plus given us the power to offer and withdraw permissions. More steps will be taken once the breech occurs, and we’ll all soon get over it because the benefits we’re receiving will so far exceed the risks.
Then will come a different kind of unexpected apps. Consider SMS on cell phones. It’s a hack, a simple message system slipped in an underutilized space reserved for cell phones and towers to communicate with each other. It cost the cell phone companies nothing to offer it, and has made them billions of dollars, with total revenue expected to reach around one trillion dollars before the technology finally declines.  Grown-ups wouldn’t use it because you had to learn a secret code and phones are supposed to be talked into.  Kids took to it like ducks to water. (Only after Apple and its imitators made SMS accessible did the demographics creep upward.)
The iWatch, like every other Apple product, will have an interface made as simple as humanly possible.  However, human nature is such that, unless the designers work tirelessly to keep ahead or at least abreast of the users, it won’t stay that way forever.  Consider the following possibility:
KidCode. It might start out as an app designed with the best of intentions, to let people communicate via a brand-new gestural language-in, Morse-code vibration out, aimed, perhaps, at a few aging amateur radio operators. It it suddenly and unexpectedly taken over by school kids, sweeping the nation. No more being busted by teacher while intently tapping out text on phones. Instead, kids will be just innocently rubbing their watch faces. No more glancing at text screens, just feeling silent vibrations.  Tabloids and the evening news will simultaneously condemn it and  propagate it.  PTAsParent-Teacher Associations will decry it.  Civic leaders will condemn it.  Ultimately, teachers will learn to notice the trademark casually drooping arms of the senders, right hand over left wrist, along with the far-away stares of the recipients, and order will be restored.  However, by then, we’ll have an entire generation of kids that knows Morse code, just as an earlier generation learned that pressing the 4 button on a phone three times would get them an “K”.
YoungEmployeeCode. Kids grow up.  The young people you may be supervising in a few years will sit in your staff meeting strategizing against you in KidCode on their iWatches while looking at you with the most innocent of young, fresh faces.  You’ll learn to ply them with Krispy Kreme Doughnuts and coffee to force their hands above the tabletop, omitting napkins to ensure that, should they subsequently decide to engage in skullduggery, they’ll end up sliming their watches with syrupy glaze. (No, it won’t hurt the watch, but it will make you feel good anyway.)
This kind of utterly silent messaging will have benefit as well. Consider:
TheaterCode. Young people will be able to communicate in crowded theaters to their heart’s content without disturbing anyone.  No talking, whispering, ringing, buzzing, illuminated screens, no nothin’. If you are neither sender nor recipient, you will remain completely undisturbed except for the occasional seemingly random guffawA short explosion of laughter.
SalesCode. ExecCode. LawyerCode. A wide variety of people will communicate with collegues using KidCode in meetings and even open court, sending cues, cautions, etc., without fear of eavesdropping or censure, giving them a clear advantage over their less communicative opposition.
If you grew up knowing that pressing the 5 button three times will generate an “N” and pressing the 7 button two times will produce an “S”, but the very thought of having to learn KidCode sent a chill through you, I regret to inform you that you have officially just turned old.  Welcome.  The good news is that you will be old for a long, long time.
SilentMessage. Having learned the code, users will be able to receive notification of people calling, appointment reminders, etc., all in complete silence without even glancing at their phones.  Gestures can start, stop, pause, and replay messages, as well as set up replies, with coded responses offering the user feedback the the system understands. SilentMessage, as with most apps, would be primarily handled by the phone, with the watch accepting input and providing output, vibration in this case.  SilentMessage would also be an option.  Everything it could do could be done using either the iWatch display or the iPhone itself.

The Expected

Many apps just belong out there. In some cases, they’re already being done by other companies in other forms, like the fitbit, or even in other watches, as with the companies mentioned above. In other cases, the iWatch
Golf. Baseball. Bowling. Tennis. Critique your form based on data gathered from the accelerometers in the watch. Get distance to the hole in golf and pertinent data for other sports delivered to the watch, rather than having to glance at your phone all the time.
Running/walking. Store and forward to your phone/computer data on jogging/walking time and distance based on arm swings, altitude changes based on pressure sensor, etc., to your phone or computer for the appropriate app to compute and display your running achievements. Lots of competition there already, but with the iWatch, it’s all built-in so you need not carry any additional hardware.
Swimming. Time your swimming laps retroactively.  Your “swim coach” app has instructed the watch to store and forward repetitive arm movement times and intervals when the watch is in a wet or high-pressure (under water) environment, so when your arm starts flailing for an extended period of time, that data gets stored and forwarded to the cloud via your phone.  Nothing for you to set beforehand. The app just simply has that data available to it to display the workout you did earlier today or a week ago Thursday if and when you become interested.
Health.  Having the watch facilitate a basic test like blood pressure monitoring would be a god-send, but probably at prohibitive cost in dollars, size, and energy.  However, people will write apps that will carry out other medical tests that will end up surprising us, such as tests for early detection of tremor, etc. The watch could also act as a store-and-forward data collector for other more specialized devices, cutting back the cost of specialized sensors that would then need be little more than a sensor, a Bluetooth chip, and a battery. Because the watch is always with us, it will be able to deliver a long-term data stream, rather than a limited snapshot, providing insight often missing from tests administered in a doctor’s office.
Find other stuff. Finding doesn’t have to be limited to only Apple products. The watch could also tell you that your car keys just went out of range, that your hand-carry luggage is no longer with you, etc. by communicating with simple Blue-Tooth-plus-battery transceivers designed as key fobs or luggage tags. They would then light up and/or emit chimes upon command to aid retrieval. These would likely not be Apple products, but would fit well into the Apple ecosystem.
Watching TV.  The iWatch will empower TV watching in at least two ways.  First, it can serve as the remote control:  Whisper to Siri what channel you want or what recorded show you want to watch. That information is then handled by a non-hobby version of AppleTV. Just double-tap to pause the screen.  Double-tap again to continue. (It could be some other gesture. They will choose one that you won’t perform by accident, but one that is much more lightweight than required, say, to unlock an iPhone.)
Second, because the iWatch eliminates the need for a passcode, IOS can be changed to enable your iPod/iPhone/iPad, in the presence of both iWatch and a nearby, running AppleTV, to turn on and default to the Remote app as soon as you pick it up, for the very first time making the Remote app practical to use on a passcode-protected iDevice.

The More Ambitious

Temperature Control. It wouldn’t take all that much to let the watch interface with a room’s thermostat. Local Bluetooth repeater information would determine what room you are in and provide the communications link, enabling you to raise or lower the current temperature from your wrist. However, if the watch can, through its array of sensors, accurately determine local ambient temperature where you are in the room, an HVAC system with an intelligent controller could provide a microclimate that would follow you around the building, making appropriate accomodation when two or more individuals with different thermal tastes occupy the same space.
The same localization information could be used by an evil employer to track employee whereabouts and, by inference, activities. In the case above, the HVAC system only needs to know that a human wants a temperature of 72 F/22 C, not that Bruce Tognazzini, employee #66, wants that temperature and spent 22 minutes and 17 seconds in that room. Apple will need to ensure that it is inherent in the system that data is anonymized to as great an extent as practical at every step.  The press will need to ensure that Apple maintains such an architecture and practice.
Correcting Apple Maps. This is a good example of what could come about through crowdsourcing using iWatch data.
Google Maps has had a roadway literally running right through the middle of my living room since 2005
Contrary to press reports, Apple’s 2D roadmaps, supplied by TomTom, are pretty darned accurate.  However, because the initial Apple Maps presentation misled the world into believing that Apple Maps was the perfect app on its first day of release, it instantly became popular sport to point out every error anyone could find. Meanwhile, Google Maps has had a roadway literally running right through the middle of my living room since 2005, and no one has felt the need to send headlines screaming around the world about it. (Apple Maps, on Day One, moved that roadway off to the side of our property where it belongs.  I can’t tell you what a relief it has been to my wife and myself having reduced traffic passing between us and the telly these last months, with only Android users continuing to rumble past.)
What is less than stellar is Apple’s “3D View,” not “Flyover,” it’s quite wonderful. I’m talking about “3D View.” However, let’s start with “Flyover.”
“Flyover” is limited to the central portions of metropolitan areas within free and democratic countries.
Apple Maps Flyover View
This is not a photograph, but a texture-mapped model of San Francisco. The Flyover view, the envy of the computer world, covers far less than 1% of the globe and, because of its super-high cost, will never cover that much more.
Today’s “3D View,” seen below, superimposes a satellite photograph of the earth on a topographical map of the world. While the height of mountains, valleys, and lakes are accurately depicted, finer features, such as buildings and roadways, have no independent altitude information associated with them, resulting in buildings being uniformly flat and roadways being, at all times, assumed to hug the landscape, something that becomes quite comical when the “landscape” is a chasm dropping several hundred feet and the roadway is actually a bridge:
Note that both the actual bridge and virtual bridge, the semi-transparent broken segments of paving seen slightly lower and to the left of the bridge, are shown as melted into the river.
The Fix: Using pressure data from millions of watches, Apple could build a precision altitude map of the world. This map would indicate true altitudes everywhere that iWatch wearers travel. The granularity would be several orders of magnitude greater than ever before attempted for a wide-area map at a cost several orders of magnitude less than Flyover.
Because most of the time, most of the people’s arms will be within four feet of known roadways (or rail beds), one can, over time, correct for both local barometric pressure and current GPS error (the GPS, of course, being in the phone, not the iWatch—GPS requires significant power). Given that data, one can then look for where current map data and people’s actual locations consistently vary, specifically where people appear to be either diving below or floating above the surface of the earth. If everyone is dropping below nominal ground level, they must be in a cut.
The more interesting data will arise from where people appear to be floating. Consider the real results that would be detected on Highway 93 above: Motorists’ watches will consistently show no pressure change as they cross the river, ergo, they are staying at the same altitude, ergo there is a bridge. Apply that correcton and the roadways, both real and virtual, will no longer melt into the river.
The building-height problem would likewise be solved:  Data collected day-after-day might report four different pressure levels, spaced 12 feet apart at one given location, indicating that particular building has four occupied stories.
Would the resulting map look as good as Flyover?  No.  The image textures would be missing, perhaps to be applied through local effort.  The buildings would typically be rendered as extruded solids, based on their roof shapes, i. e., primarily clusters of rectangular solids. Would it be ahead of what’s there and way ahead of the competition?  Definitely. Such a world-wide micro-altitude map, applied to Apple’s current 3D View, would instantly correct millions of errors, turning Apple Maps into the map with the most finely-detailed vertical information ever.
Weather prediction. Sure, the watch will tell you the temperature outside and whether you’re going to get rained on, but I’m talking about another crowdsourcing application, one that can save lives. Once a true altitude map has been established, meteorologists will be able to gather barometric data at a granularity never before even considered.  That data, fed into supercomputers, has the potential to enable them to detect and correlate initial conditions very early in the process, predicting storm paths, strengths, and timing with considerably higher precision than today.
Turn-by-turn walking directions. The face of a smartwatch would be a poor place to display maps, but it can display an arrow just fine. As you approach an intersection, the arrow will become bent, etc., indicating a right or left turn, just as we’re used to with the arrows in our GPS. Except there’s one problem: As you rotate your arm, the arrow, fixed as it is on the display, rotates right with you. Or at least it would if you didn’t have a compass embedded in your watch.
Here’s how a compass-equipped iWatch would work: You start by asking Siri to guide you someplace in the city, and the Maps app on your iPhone works out the route.  The iPhone issues its first command to the watch:  “iWatch: Display a straight arrow pointing toward 22 degrees.” (Actual syntax more complex.) The iWatch “knows” which way is North from its compass, so it adds 22 degrees to that and displays the arrow pointing toward 22 degrees.  Then, it updates that image, say, 15 times a second, as necessary.  You can rotate your arm all you want, but the iWatch will always display that arrow just floating there, always pointing toward 22 degrees magnetic.
The watch might also display the remaining minutes until the bus you’re hoping to catch will arrive, along with an indicator letting you know if your pace is sufficient.
With people no longer needing to stare at their iPhones as they walk down the street, there will be fewer people run over and fewer people subjected to having their iPhones snatched from their hands.
“What’s That [thing]?” You’re standing in a forest clearing and a waterfall high on the mountain catches your eye.  You raise your hand, point your finger, and say, “What’s that waterfall?”  Your iPhone’s speaker responds, “That’s the upper level of Yosemite Falls.” Simple: The GPS (in the phone) establishes your position, the iWatch compass reports the direction your arm is pointing, its accelerometer reports declination, and triangulation in the app on the phone corrects for the offset between your eyes and shoulder joint. (Yes, finer resolution could be achieved by having the user start out by running a setup routine to determine each user’s dominant eye. A bit beyond the scope of this article, no?)
For just these last two apps alone, having a compass would be very cool, and I hope they’ll incorporate one in the first release.  If they don’t, then these last two apps will fall into the category of…

Future Releases

With subsequent product generations, the iWatch will take on more and more of a central role in your iLife.
Important papers. You know that sinking feeling when you realize you left your wallet at home?  It would be nice if having your NFC chip with you in the watch would, from day-one, remove most of that, enabling you to buy lunch, gas, and food for dinner, but how about if it also stored electronic copies of your driver’s license, your passport, etc., along with an access pathway to your medical records for emergency personnel?
Ubiquitous access.  Approach any Apple device, mobile or not when wearing your iWatch. Armed with the owner of that device’s approval and your passcode, make it temporarily yours.  If it’s a Mac, you will see your account just as you last left it.  If it’s a phone, it will, for as long as you’re holding it, be your phone, being billed to your account, showing your address book, etc. (This is a concept we showed in the opening scene of my 1993 film, Starfire.) To secure that kind of access, will require two-factor authentication, and, with the iWatch, that authentication will finally become available and simple.

First Release

So when will the iWatch come out? I need mine no later than a week from Tuesday, but Apple, when you look back, is never actually the first. They let a few others, sometimes many others, experiment first. (Tablets were out for more than a decade.) Then, they bring out the killer product. We may have to wait until next year, or around 7500 pass code/password entries from now.  Please, Apple, get a move on!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

gmail chat problems

Here's a screen shot of something that appeared on my gmail chat screen this morning.

I am not on Google plus, though Google makes me look as though I'm inviting people to join me on a Google Plus 'Hang Out' when I ask them to video chat, which is embarrassing because it writes the message on my behalf - all I want is to video chat, not get them to join anything - and people have written back as though they believe I wrote the message.

The message in the screenshot is the same kind of phenomenon I used to see appearing in Facebook chat - one of the main reasons I left Facebook - so many creeping vulnerabilities, lurking about, phishing scams, etc. Email is supposed to be a personal space, not a social network. If they blur the lines too much, I'm inclined to use private email.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013


How bout them items.

Kick me in the family items.

I can't give you anything but

You've got the items, and I've got the brains.

Oh, you shouldn't have! My favorite items!

With this item, I thee wed.

Something crawled up out of the primordial items.

The Itemic Elbow


It's the items that matter.

The items that get measured, get managed.
- Greg T.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Scientists 3-D Print Human Embryonic Stem Cells

Scientists 3-D Print Human Embryonic Stem Cells
They hope to create 3-D tissues and organs using stem cells as the "ink."

3-D printers can produce gun parts, aircraft wings, food and a lot more, but this new 3-D printed product may be the craziest thing yet: human embryonic stem cells.

Using stem cells as the “ink” in a 3-D printer, researchers in Scotland hope to eventually build 3-D printed organs and tissues. A team at Heriot-Watt University used a specially designed valve-based technique to deposit whole, live cells onto a surface in a specific pattern.

The cells were floating in a “bio-ink,” to use the terminology of the researchers who developed this technique. They were able to squeeze out tiny droplets, containing five cells or fewer per droplet, in a variety of shapes and sizes. To produce clumps of cells, the team printed out cells first and then overlaid those with cell-free bio-ink, resulting in larger droplets or spheroids of cells. The cells would group together inside these spheroids. Spheroid size is key, because stem cells need certain conditions to work properly. This is why very precisely controlled 3-D printing could be so valuable for stem cell research.

After being squeezed out of a thin valve, the cells were still alive and viable, and able to transform into any other cell in the body, the researchers say. It’s the first time anyone has printed human embyronic stem cells, said lead researcher Will Wenmiao Shu, a professor at Heriot-Watt. But ... why?

Eventually, they could be used to print out new tissues, or as filler inside existing organs, which would be regenerated. It could even serve to limit animal testing for new drug compounds, allowing them to be tested on actual human tissue, said Jason King, business development manager at Roslin Cellab, one of the research partners. “In the longer term, [it could] provide organs for transplant on demand, without the need for donation and without the problems of immune suppression and potential organ rejection,” he said in a statement.

The team took stem cells from an embryonic kidney and from a well-studied embryonic cell line, and grew them in culture. They had to build a custom reservoir--let’s call it an inkwell--to safely house the delicate cells, and then they added some large-diameter nozzles. A pressurized air supply pumps the cells from the inkwell into the valves, which contain pressurized nozzles on the end. The team could control the amount of cells dispensed by changing any of the factors, including the pneumatic pressure, nozzle diameter or length of time the nozzle stayed open.

At first the researchers printed droplets, but ultimately, they were so precise that they made cell spheroids in a variety of shapes and sizes, like the university logo above. One interesting wrinkle: The cells also formed spheroids in the inkwells. More work needs to be done to explain that. The researchers also took several steps to make sure the cells survived the printing process.

Examining the results of several experiments, they found 99 percent of the cells were still viable after running through the valve-based printer. “This confirms that this printing process did not appear to damage the cells or affect the viability of the vast majority of dispensed cells,” they write in their paper, which is being published in the IOP regenerative medicine journal Biofabrication.

Stem cells are powerful because they can develop into any cell in the body. Embryonic stem cells, which are taken from human embryos in the earliest stages of development, can be developed into stem cell lines that can be grown indefinitely. This is kind of controversial, especially in this country.

But medical researchers think they could be hugely promising for a whole host of human ailments--stem cells could differentiate into neurons, potentially replacing the ones lost in degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s; or they could differentiate into pancreatic cells, curing diabetes; and so on.

Using a 3-D printer to produce gun parts has been pretty controversial, especially during the ongoing post-Connecticut-shooting gun debate. But that may be nothing compared to this.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Little Debbie acquires Ding Dong

That would make for an upsetting headline / mental picture, but a sign of the times, I suppose.

I noticed the Little Debbie's 'Chocolate Cupcake' looks an awful lot like the Hostess version, but the Ding Dong was similar, creamy center, without the spiral icing on top.

OLED mobile, scroll-style phones

I've thought of this design for a while - looked today and found these:

Friday, February 1, 2013

Netflix data tracking

video behind the scenes of Netflix tracking

Netflix data tracking 

How Netflix is turning viewers into puppets

"House of Cards" gives viewers exactly what Big Data says we want. This won't end well

I hit the pause button roughly one-third of the way through the first episode of “House of Cards,” the political drama premiering on Netflix Feb. 1. By doing so, I created what is known in the world of Big Data as an “event” — a discrete action that could be logged, recorded and analyzed. Every single day, Netflix, by far the largest provider of commercial streaming video programming in the United States, registers hundreds of millions of such events. As a consequence, the company knows more about our viewing habits than many of us realize. Netflix doesn’t know merely what we’re watching, but when, where and with what kind of device we’re watching. It keeps a record of every time we pause the action — or rewind, or fast-forward — and how many of us abandon a show entirely after watching for a few minutes.

Netflix might not know exactly why I personally hit the pause button — I was checking on my sick son, home from school with the flu — but if enough people pause or rewind or fast-forward at the same place during the same show, the data crunchers can start to make some inferences. Perhaps the action slowed down too much to hold viewer interest — bored now! — or maybe the plot became too convoluted. Or maybe that sex scene was just so hot it had to be watched again. If enough of us never end up restarting the show after taking a break, the inference could be even stronger: maybe the show just sucked.

In 2012, for the first time ever, Americans watched more movies legally delivered via the Internet than on physical formats like Blu-Ray discs or DVDs. The shift signified more than a simple switch in formats; it also marked a major difference in how much information the providers of online programming can gather about our viewing habits. Netflix is at the forefront of this sea change, a pioneer straddling the intersection where Big Data and entertainment media intersect. With “House of Cards,” we’re getting our first real glimpse at what this new world will look like.
For at least a year, Netflix has been explicit about its plans to exploit its Big Data capabilities to influence its programming choices. “House of Cards” is one of the first major test cases of this Big Data-driven creative strategy. For almost a year, Netflix executives have told us that their detailed knowledge of Netflix subscriber viewing preferences clinched their decision to license a remake of the popular and critically well regarded 1990 BBC miniseries. Netflix’s data indicated that the same subscribers who loved the original BBC production also gobbled down movies starring Kevin Spacey or directed by David Fincher. Therefore, concluded Netflix executives, a remake of the BBC drama with Spacey and Fincher attached was a no-brainer, to the point that the company committed $100 million for two 13-episode seasons.

“We know what people watch on Netflix and we’re able with a high degree of confidence to understand how big a likely audience is for a given show based on people’s viewing habits,” Netflix communications director Jonathan Friedland told Wired in November. “We want to continue to have something for everybody. But as time goes on, we get better at selecting what that something for everybody is that gets high engagement.”

The strategy has advantages that go beyond the assumption of built-in popularity. Netflix also believes it can save big on marketing costs because Netflix’s recommendation engine will do all the heavy lifting. Already, Netflix claims that 75 percent of its subscribers are influenced by what Netflix suggests to subscribers that they will like.

“We don’t have to spend millions to get people to tune into this,” Steve Swasey, Netflix’s V.P. of corporate communications, told GigaOm last March. “Through our algorithms we can determine who might be interested in Kevin Spacey or political drama and say to them, ‘You might want to watch this.’”

And maybe we will. Early reviews for “House of Cards” are promising. It will be fascinating to find out how many people gorge themselves on all 13 episodes this upcoming weekend. (Netflix data shows that’s how we like to consume our TV series now — in great gulps and marathons — so that’s how it will give them to us.) But one does end up wondering: What will the Big Data approach mean for the creative process? If Netflix perfects the job of giving us exactly what we want, when and how will we be exposed to things that are new and different, the movies and TV shows we would never imagine we might like unless given the chance? Can the auteur survive in an age when computer algorithms are the ultimate focus group? And just how many political dramas starring Kevin Spacey can we stand, anyway?

The scope of the data collected by Netflix from its 29 million streaming video subscribers is staggering. Every search you make, every positive or negative rating you give to what you just watched, is piped in along with ratings data from third-party providers like Nielsen. Location data, device data, social media references, bookmarks. Every time a viewer logs on he or she needs to be authenticated. Every movie or TV show also has its own associated licensing data. The logistics involved with handling every bit of information generated by Netflix viewers — and making sense of it — are pure geek wizardry. 

Netflix doesn’t just know that you are more likely to be watching a thriller on Saturday night than on Monday afternoon, but it also knows what you are more likely to be watching on your tablet as compared to your phone or laptop; or what people in a particular ZIP code like to watch on their tablets on a Sunday afternoon. Netflix even tracks how many people start tuning out when the credits start to roll.

Correlating the raw numbers of Kevin Spacey fans who also like David Fincher and have a fondness for British political dramas is just the beginning. Netflix knows enough about what you are watching to judge specific aspects of content as well. Last summer senior data scientist Mohammad Sabah reported at a conference that Netflix was capturing specific screen shots to analyze in-the-moment viewing habits, and the company was “looking to take into account other characteristics.”
What could those characteristics be? GigaOm’s report of the Sabah presentation speculated that “it could make a lot of sense to consider things such as volume, colors and scenery that might give valuable signals about what viewers like.”

Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos has said that all that data means that Netflix has a very “addressable audience.” Unlike the traditional broadcast networks or cable companies, Netflix doesn’t have to rely on shoveling content out into the wild and finding out after the fact what audiences want or don’t want. They believe they already know.

Of course, data-centric decisions don’t guarantee hit-making success. Kevin Spacey’s participation isn’t bulletproof (see “Fred Claus”) and even David Fincher can’t claim a perfect record. (“Alien 3,” anyone?) Netflix’s ambition to challenge HBO as a destination for quality original programming will require fabulous craftsmanship to go along with the Big Data filters. All the Big Data in the world can’t rule out, once and for all, the possibility of a bomb.

But that goes without saying. The interesting and potentially troubling question is how a reliance on Big Data might funnel craftsmanship in particular directions. What happens when directors approach the editing room armed with the knowledge that a certain subset of subscribers are opposed to jump cuts or get off on gruesome torture scenes or just want to see blow jobs. Is that all we’ll be offered? We’ve seen what happens when news publications specialize in just delivering online content that maximizes page views. It isn’t always the most edifying spectacle. Do we really want creative decisions about how a show looks and feels to be made according to an algorithm counting how many times we’ve bailed out of other shows?

For years Netflix has been analyzing what we watched last night to suggest movies or TV shows that we might like to watch tomorrow. Now it is using the same formula to prefabricate its own programming to fit what it thinks we will like. Isn’t the inevitable result of this that the creative impulse gets channeled into a pre-built canal?

It’s certainly possible to overstate the case here. One could argue that Netflix’s strategy is only a slightly more sophisticated version of what’s already been in place for, well, forever. We wouldn’t be seeing teenage vampires or zombies every time we turn on the TV if the money that bankrolls the content creation business hadn’t already decided that’s what we want to see. Actors who have the fortune to appear in hit movies or TV show get more parts to play. So what else is new?

But there’s a level of specificity made possible by Big Data that suggests we’re headed into new territory. “House of Cards” is just one symptom of a society-wide shift. The Obama campaign used the same kind of number crunching to target voters with more accuracy than any political campaign had ever accomplished before. Online advertisers are also gathering vast amounts of detailed information about us from our smartphones, our Facebook likes and our Google searches.

The sheer amount of data available to crunch is already phenomenal and is growing at an extraordinary rate. Last summer, at a panel discussion that included several significant players in the emerging Big Data universe, Michael Karasick, a V.P. at IBM Research, estimated that there is “a thousand exabytes of data on the planet anywhere.” An exabyte is one quintillion bytes, or 1,000 gigabytes. That’s a lot of ones and zeroes all by itself, but the mind-boggling part of the equation is that Karasick predicted that just two years from now there will be 9,000-10,000 exabytes of data on the planet.

The companies that figure out how to generate intelligence from that data will know more about us than we know ourselves, and will be able to craft techniques that push us toward where they want us to go, rather than where we would go by ourselves if left to our own devices. I’m guessing this will be good for Netflix’s bottom line, but at what point do we go from being happy subscribers, to mindless puppets?
Andrew Leonard Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.