Sunday, December 28, 2014

Siri cops an attitude

It's Friday, rush hour. I plunge down a ramp into frothing traffic at the mouth of a four-lane state highway heading north of downtown and invoke Siri to call the person I am driving to meet. It's already dark, raining heavily, and I'm surrounded by aggressive drivers in low visibility. I'm thinking I might be late for the movie.

My prompt to call fails. I try again, and Siri asks 'Just to confirm, you'd like to call...', and exasperated, I respond, "Explitive! Yes!"

Siri responds, "After all I've done for you..." and no call is placed.

I never expected that Apple's ambition for personalization would constitute the blind spot of my driving experience. At least the blue tooth ensured that I was hands-free while I operated my manual transmission, but when I had to reach for my device again to get around the distraction of the smart ass remark, under said circumstances, I felt less safe, far less patient, and I was certainly not amused.

Technically, of course, my voice command was apparently unclear such that the call did not go through. But rather than the system compensating for situational awareness and also acknowledging the 'yes' command, it apparently focused on my expletive relative to the the contextual awareness of a yes/no question, and prioritized a contextually clever response. Siri cannot see my situation or hear the real concern in my voice. I can only imagine what other more dire scenarios might incite Siri to add insult to injury. 'Siri, @#!!, call 911!'

When going up an elevator in a parking garage, and Siri gives me a gratuitous response that begins 'I'm really sorry about this, but..." to inform me that the signal is not available, once again, I am  having to withstand not only a long delay and a distraction but also an annoyance - one I've heard several times before.

It's a lot like the days of DVDs, where a short-sighted menu design requires the consumer to wait for a long animation sequence to build  before offering navigation to start the feature. The novelty immediately represents a kind of sentence, that the consumer must forever wait on something about as compelling as watching a toilet flush in order to enjoy something deemed spectacular. Don't they know that we buy to watch again and again? The movie, not the blasted interface. No, they likely target renters, not owners - how apropo for today's SAS model. I doubt Terry Gilliam was consulted about constructing the animated menu for the sixteen-disc collection of Flying Circus, and even if he was, well, then dammit, he shouldn't have been.

Don't get me wrong. I love voice commands and voice texting is mostly helpful - particularly when the time comes to blame the dog for my own poor choice of words. But, I need straight-talk responses. 'Siri not available', when in airplane mode, is just the facts ma'am-style verbiage I like, but, a reminder to 'disable airplane mode to access Siri' might be more helpful. Directions, including timing on anticipating turns, are so far, so good. By comparison, Waze could work on their timing and clarity.

Repeated experience with a persona like Siri can be a lot like having forced company, or an annoying roommate. There's a reason people use self-check out. And volume switches or other knobs. A friendly experience might be pleasant for some, but it can also be an obstacle, an irritant, or even a distraction to the point of liability.

While Siri has the potential to be amusing in designated contexts, the primary user assumption is utility. When a user depends on such a utility to speak with a live human and encounters an obstacle delivered under the pretense of a personality - perhaps one fabricated upon a trampoline of 'if-then' statements likely woven together through conjecture between bong hits by snarky, tattooed millennial ironic mullet-sporting Jedi doppleganger copywriters in skinny jeans who gleefully banter with Siri, 'Like, I know, right?' - the contrast between the living and the contrivance is so stark - there remains no suspension of disbelief, only the gap in utility, the bad judgement and arrogance of the designers, and whatever the user experiences as a result - surprise, disappointment, frustration, anger, fear, regret, dismemberment.

Yes, the engineers handle the AI, but, likely a bunch of copywriters concoct the scenarios. Bong hits. And if they are Jobs disciples, blotter paper. 

I suppose one could argue that the day will come when we will need to interact as purposefully and conscientiously with our machines as we would have them interact with us, and perhaps Apple assumes that we should begin minding our protocol immediately. I would cite Steve Krug's 'don't make me think' mantra, and recall the scene in Star Wars when Luke asks C-3PO to shut down all garbage mashers on the detention level.

I cannot take credit for the particular edit I found on YouTube, but it pretty well illustrates what it feels like when Apple decides that Siri should delight the customer and exceed expectations. Let it loop a few times:

'Jueputa' Explained

Most people in the U.S. who have learned a little Spanish have likely picked up at least a few profanity gems. Most of us start with 'ca ca' and eventually work our way to 'puta', 'puto' or the beloved 'hijo de puta'. But, let's not get confused when we go a bit further south of the border.

My Colombian friend and I were discussing the phrase 'hijo de puta' and I was encouraged to use the abbreviated expression 'jueputa'. I wanted to text the phrase to show some appreciation, and I wasn't quite sure how to spell it, so I began my journey online and uncovered a treasure trove.

First, I found this page which offered a clue:

HIJO DE PUTA: 'hijoeputa' or 'higueputa', spanish word meaning 'son of a bitch'.

Not quite satisfied, I searched for 'higueputa' and found 'hijueputa', a variation on the spelling, which is abbreviated as 'jueputa'. Bingo.

The phrase 'jueputa' is a blend of words from different origins.

Spanish 'hijo' (son) crosses over with variations on roots of the English word we know as 'hag' which became 'higue' when Europeans arrived in the Caribbean, then later took on the Latin twist, 'hijue', before contracting to 'jue'. So,  just add 'puta' as a chaser and you are ready to serve up a round of 'jueputa'. Here's the wiktionary entry for 'jueputa' to confirm conclusions about abbreviation.

(hijo de puta = higueputa = hijueputa = jueputa = jue).

Although we recognize the word 'puta' to be the Spanish equivalent to the English word 'bitch', we lose some meaning in translation, that it doesn't in fact mean 'female dog', but according to Urban Dictionary, 'puta' is short for spanish "prostituta" which means prostitute. The implication and agreement of both 'hag' and 'bitch' in this phrase is actually 'whore / prostitute'; 'hag-whore', or 'son of a hag-whore'. The phrase is employed like any good expletive. 

e.g. Upon smashing his thumb with a hammer, Juan cursed "Aye, jueputa!".

Actually, I recall working with a Mexican guy who used to say '¿Qué onda?, jue?' which I suppose meant 'What's happening, son of a bitch'. 'Onda' translates via Google as 'wave' and I found a reference online that suggests 'what's shaking'.

According to the wiki on hag:

The term appears in Middle English, and was a shortening of hægtesse, an Old English term for witch, similarly the Dutch heks and German hexe are also shortenings, of the Middle Dutch haghetisse and Old High German hagzusa respectively.[4] All these words derive from the Proto-Germanic *hagatusjon-[4] which is of unknown origin, however the first element may be related to the word "hedge".
(end wiki)

...interesting that the derivation of 'hag' leads the root of the word 'hex' and carries the association with the occult. Also, that this same root relates to 'hedge' which represents an enclosure, barrier or form of protection. Notably, The Hague means 'hedge'.

According to wiki, the word 'hag' is used interchangeably with 'crone', is associated with misogyny, and refers to a woman who is 'marginalized by her exclusion from the reproductive cycle, and her proximity to death places her in contact with occult wisdom'.

...when I looked up the word 'higue', I encountered many references to the legends in Guyana including this one:

I also found this on wiki:

The soucouyant or soucriant in Dominica, Trinidadian and Guadeloupean folklore (also known as Ole-Higue or Loogaroo elsewhere in the Caribbean), is a kind of blood-sucking hag.


The soucouyant is a shape-shifting Caribbean folklore character who appears as a reclusive old woman by day. By night, she strips off her wrinkled skin and puts it in a mortar. In her true form, as a fireball she flies across the dark sky in search of a victim. The soucouyant can enters the home of her victim through any sized hole like cracks, crevices and keyholes.

Soucouyants suck people's blood from their arms, legs and soft parts while they sleep leaving blue-black marks on the body in the morning.[3] If the soucouyant draws too much blood, it is believed that the victim will either die and become a soucouyant or perish entirely, leaving her killer to assume her skin. The soucouyant practices witchcraft, voodoo, and black magic. Soucouyants trade their victims' blood for evil powers with Bazil, the demon who resides in the silk cotton tree.[3]

To expose a soucouyant, one should heap rice around the house or at the village cross roads as the creature will be obligated to gather every grain, grain by grain (a herculean task to do before dawn) so that she can be caught in the act.[3] To destroy her, coarse salt must be placed in the mortar containing her skin so she perishes, unable to put the skin back on. Belief in soucouyants is still preserved to an extent in some Caribbean islands, including Dominica, St. Lucia, Haiti, Suriname and Trinidad.[4]

The skin of the soucouyant is considered valuable, and is used when practicing black magic.


Soucouyants belong to a class of spirits called jumbies. Some believe that soucouyants were brought to the Caribbean from European countries in the form of French vampire-myths. These beliefs intermingled with those of enslaved Africans.

In the French West Indies, specifically the island of Guadeloupe, and also in Suriname, the Soukougnan or Soukounian is a person able to shed his or her skin to turn into a vampiric fireball. In general these figures can be anyone, not only old women, although some affirm that only women could become Soukounian, because only female breasts could disguise the creature's wings.

The term "Loogaroo" also used to describe the soucouyant, possibly comes from the French mythological creature called the Loup-garou, a type of werewolf, and is common in the Culture of Mauritius. In Suriname this creature is called "Asema".

(end wiki entry)

Saturday, December 27, 2014

VR/Augmented Reality companies acquired by Oculus


Oculus VR, the Virtual Reality (VR) technology company acquired by Facebook earlier this year, announced recently that they are acquiring two small start-up companies, Nimble VR and 13th Lab, to fill gaps in their virtual reality capabilities. The acquisitions may indicate that, besides VR games and social worlds, Facebook may target Augmented Reality (AR) applications, like Google is doing with Google Glass.

My comments:

This is exactly the idea I wrote about a few years ago, only I my hope is to see unlimited motion, which I get the impression may be possible through the technologies at Nimble VR.

I had proposed the idea of professional sports being experienced by a live crowd wearing headsets, and I also read about a recent suggestion that video games be a part of the Olympics (see excerpt below). Possibly, things are moving in that direction with VR/AR development.

Here is an example of work by 13th Lab:

posted on

The BBC is running a story about e-sports and competitive video game. It's based on comments from Rob Pardo, formerly of Blizzard Entertainment, who says there's a good argument for having e-sports in the Olympics. He says video games are well positioned to be a spectator sport — an opinion supported by Amazon's purchase of for almost a billion dollars. The main obstacle, says Pardo, is getting people to accept video games as a legitimate sport. "If you want to define sport as something that takes a lot of physical exertion, then it's hard to argue that videogames should be a sport, but at the same time, when I'm looking at things that are already in the Olympics, I start questioning the definition." The article notes, "Take chess, for instance. Supporters of the game have long called for its inclusion the Games, but the IOC has been reluctant, considering it a 'mind sport' and therefore not welcome in the Games." So, should the Games expand to include "mind sports" and video games?

Amazon has agreed to acquire the live game-streaming service Twitch for approximately $970 million in cash, a move that could help Amazon bolster its position in the fast-growing business of online gaming and give it technology to compete with video-streaming rivals Netflix and YouTube. The acquisition, which has been approved by Twitch's shareholders, is expected to be completed by the end of the year. Google had for some time been reported to have interest in acquiring Twitch, but those talks cooled in recent weeks. Google was unable to close the deal, said sources familiar with the talks, because it was concerned about potential antitrust issues that could have come with the acquisition.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

TMS for entertainment

Transcranial magnetic stimulation has been used for years to diagnose and treat neural disorders such as stroke, Alzheimer's, and depression. Soon the medical technique could be applied to virtual reality and entertainment. Neuroscientist Jeffrey Zacks writes, "it's quite likely that some kind of electromagnetic brain stimulation for entertainment will become practical in the not-too-distant future." Imagine an interactive movie where special effects are enhanced by zapping parts of the brain from outside to make the action more vivid. Before brain stimulation makes it to the masses, however, it has plenty of technical and safety hurdles to overcome.

Skype Unveils Preview of Live English-To-Spanish Translator


Microsoft, after demoing the technology back in May, is giving some real-world exposure to its Skype-based translation. The Skype preview program will kick-off with two spoken languages, Spanish and English, and 40+ instant messaging languages will be available to Skype customers who have signed-up via the Skype Translator sign-up page and are using Windows 8.1 on the desktop or device. Skype asked two schools to try Skype Translator – Peterson School in Mexico City, and Stafford Elementary School in Tacoma, USA – playing a game of 'Mystery Skype' in which the children ask questions to determine the location of the other school. One classroom of children speaking Spanish and the other speaking English, Skype Translator removed this language barrier and enabled them to communicate.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Google Fiber

Even as a massive firestorm burns uncontrollably threatening to scorch the very foundations of the internet with AT&T indefinitely halting future GigaPower FTTH rollouts due to uncertainty over the future of net neutrality and the Obama administration proposing to regulate the internet under Title 2, highly suggestive jobs were recently added to Google Careers.

These Google Fiber related positions include: "City Manager", "Community Impact Manager" and "Plant Manager" in all potential Google Fiber cities. Perplexing inconsistences abound, such as Portland, Phoenix, San Jose and Atlanta positions being listed as local. Whereas San Antonio, Raleigh, Charlotte, and Nashville are listed as telecommute positions.

One is inclined to speculate as to what these job postings mean despite Google's disclaimer: "Not all cities where we're exploring hiring a team will necessarily become Google Fiber cities." Would Google post jobs as an act of posturing much like AT&T's supposed "Gigabit smoke screen" bluff? Or, should we expect to see these so called Fiber Huts springing up like so many mushrooms after a heavy rain in an additional 9 metro areas?

At the rate Google is going, is it too soon to speculate over Fiber Dojos popping up in Japan?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

New Image Format BPG To Replace JPEG

Bellard Creates New Image Format To Replace JPEG

Fabrice Bellard (creator of FFMPEG, QEMU, JSLinux...) proposes a new image format that could replace JPEG : BPG. For the same quality, files are about half the size of their JPEG equivalents. He released libbpg (with source) as well as a JS decompressor, and set up a demo including the famous Lena image.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Ultrasound Haptics

Ultrasound is focused to create the shape of a virtual sphere Bristol Interaction and Graphics group, University of Bristol, copyright © 2014 Share this article Press release issued: 2 December 2014

Technology has changed rapidly over the last few years with touch feedback, known as haptics, being used in entertainment, rehabilitation and even surgical training. New research, using ultrasound, has developed a virtual 3D haptic shape that can be seen and felt. The research paper, published in the current issue of ACM Transactions on Graphics and which will be presented at this week’s SIGGRAPH Asia 2014 conference [3-6 December], demonstrates how a method has been created to produce 3D shapes that can be felt in mid-air.

The research, led by Dr Ben Long and colleagues Professor Sriram Subramanian, Sue Ann Seah and Tom Carter from the University of Bristol’s Department of Computer Science, could change the way 3D shapes are used. The new technology could enable surgeons to explore a CT scan by enabling them to feel a disease, such as a tumour, using haptic feedback. The method uses ultrasound, which is focussed onto hands above the device and that can be felt. By focussing complex patterns of ultrasound, the air disturbances can be seen as floating 3D shapes. Visually, the researchers have demonstrated the ultrasound patterns by directing the device at a thin layer of oil so that the depressions in the surface can be seen as spots when lit by a lamp. The system generates a virtual 3D shape that can be added to 3D displays to create something that can be seen and felt.

The research team have also shown that users can match a picture of a 3D shape to the shape created by the system. Dr Ben Long, Research Assistant from the Bristol Interaction and Graphics (BIG) group in the Department of Computer Science, said: “Touchable holograms, immersive virtual reality that you can feel and complex touchable controls in free space, are all possible ways of using this system.

“In the future, people could feel holograms of objects that would not otherwise be touchable, such as feeling the differences between materials in a CT scan or understanding the shapes of artefacts in a museum.” Paper Rendering Volumetic Haptic Shapes in Mid-Air using Ultrasound by Benjamin Long, Sue Ann Seah, Tom Carter, Sriram Subramanian in ACM Transactions on Graphics.

Further information

A longer video of the technology is available on YouTube. A

bout the Bristol Interaction and Graphics The Bristol Interaction and Graphics (BIG), based in the University of Bristol’s Department of Computer Science, is united by a common interest in creative interdisciplinarity. BIG acts as a hub for collaboration between social scientists, artists, scientists and engineers to combine efficient and aesthetic design. The group is particularly interested in areas which couple the design of devices with deployment and evaluation in public settings. Members of the group have expertise in research areas spanning human-computer interaction, visual and tactile perception, imaging, visualisation and computer-supported collaboration.

YouTube channel:

About the ACM SIGGRAPH Asia 2014 Asia’s largest computer graphics (CG) event, SIGGRAPH Asia 2014, will take place in Shenzhen, China at the Shenzhen Convention & Exhibition Center from 3 to 6 December 2014. Over 7,700 attendees from over 60 countries are expected, making the conference and exhibition the largest and most respected computer graphics conference in Asia. Through a conference (3 to 6 December) and trade exhibition (4 to 6 December), a multitude of exciting SIGGRAPH Asia activities will showcase the industry’s latest digitally-enabled means of expression. This year, the line-up of conference programs will include the Computer Animation Festival, Courses, Workshops, Emerging Technologies, Posters, Symposium on Mobile Graphics and Interactive Applications, Technical Briefs, and Technical Papers.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Banking and VR With Cardless ATMs And VR, Banks Are Vying To Out-Nerd Each Other For Your Attention

Heartbeat passwords, computer goggles, and nagging fridges. But what of the banks' future visions will actually stick?
By Jennifer Elias

This article contains comments from Bank of America e-commerce technology executive Hari Gopalkrishnan; Brad Nolan, head of Chase's branch and ATM innovation; Jim Smith, head of Wells Fargo’s Virtual Channels Group; MasterCard's chief innovation officer Garry Lyons; and Chase’s digital director Avin Arumugam.

Imagine, if you will, the big bank as an incubator.

In the year that bitcoin began to grow up and Apple Pay was born, this is precisely what the country’s largest financial institutions want you to imagine. Three of them opened up innovation labs to think of what’s next in mobile banking; some are starting their own accelerators. The latest research estimates that U.S. mobile payments, currently at $52 billion, will grow to $142 billion within five years.

Now an industry not exactly known for speed is approaching 2015 with an ethos that sounds more Silicon Valley than Wall Street, touting visions of semi-automation, wearables, and the kind of futuristic security they hope will inspire consumers to trust them and their technology in the first place.

Cache Rules Everything Around Me

Some banks have pledged that 2015 will be the year that they address long-standing customer requests, like the ability to withdraw more cash at ATMs, spend less time waiting in line at branches, and even leave their wallets at home.

At Chase, the robots are coming, but they're not completely taking over. The bank intends to roll out a half-automated ATM in 2015, says Brad Nolan, head of the bank's branch and ATM innovation. Though he couldn't specify locations, the machines will likely be first adopted at select California and Ohio branches before spreading across the country in the coming years.

"We're going to be equipping our tellers with tablets inside of the branches," he says. "Customers can withdraw more cash and our risk systems can alert a teller if a secondary form of ID is needed. We're really trying to not just focus on self-service. It's this whole concept of assisted service."

The bank began rolling out its first form of eATMs earlier this year in a few locations, including Silicon Valley branches. "If you put that experience out there and enable customers to do what they want to do, they'll use it hands down, day in and day out," he says.

"There’s still a lot of customers who don’t have debit cards," Chase's Nolan says. "Now customers will be able to come in, and if they don't have a card, no problem."

This also means getting rid of cards altogether. Starting in 2015, tellers equipped with tablets—they didn't say which kind—will be able to access account information with just a customer's fingerprint. "There’s still a lot of customers who don’t have debit cards," Nolan says. "Now customers will be able to come in, and if they don't have a card, no problem."

Bank of America’s new Teller Assist ATMs combines on-screen tellers with an ATM that dispenses many more denominations of cash than normal. Starting in 2015, the bank also plans to convert all of its credit cards to chip-embedded EMV cards, which offer greater security features.

VR Banking And Tracking Beacons

Banks close earlier than most other businesses, which is why Wells Fargo, Chase, and Bank of America are all planning ways to use video as a focal point for customer interaction in 2015.

Bank of America e-commerce technology executive Hari Gopalkrishnan says that kind of convenience is the biggest demand he gets from customers. Nolan, Chase’s ATM innovation head, says banks need video more than any other industry. "We're interested in how you can make this [video] enable devices that we manage, like ATMs, bank kiosks, all the way to a live chat session from a customer's computer at home or on their mobile device."

With 13 million mobile users, Wells Fargo will be continuing pilot research on videoconferencing with tellers between users’ tablets and TVs.

"When making important financial decisions, video is going to be key to connect bankers with our customers where and when they want," says Jim Smith, head of Wells Fargo’s Virtual Channels Group. He says the bank plans to integrate apps for Google Glass as well. In a demo, the bank showed clients using Glass to scan checks and credit cards in order to pay bills in order to authenticate themselves to a teller on the other side of a videoconference.

The bank also created an Oculus Rift prototype that allows customers to walk into a virtual branch, and Capital One has been experimenting with the VR headset too, but neither look terribly impressive. Fidelity has announced an Oculus vision that would enable users to view their stocks in the form of a three-dimensional city.

"The fridge will notify you when you need milk, eggs, or whatever you need. The technology is already there so we don’t need to invent anything new..."

Closer to production is Wells Fargo’s connected car concept, which addresses the 30% of Wells Fargo’s customers who prefer drive-through banking. In 2015, a second round of testing will include making payments at bridge tolls, drive-throughs, and eateries. MasterCard—which is also working on connected car payments—presumes "you’ll be able to order ahead from a gas station without taking hands off the steering wheel," says chief innovation officer Garry Lyons.

MasterCard recently demonstrated mobile payments between smartwatches and laundromats, and will be piloting payment-enabled refrigerators in 2015. Though the details are still under wraps, this will likely include a screen like the kind seen on modern soda machines, only it would give users the option to buy groceries for pickup or delivery.

"If I’m running out of eggs or milk, depending on the intelligence in the device, the fridge will notify you when you need milk, eggs, or whatever you need," Lyons says. "The technology is already there so we don’t need to invent anything new, we just need to deploy our scale."

Chase and Wells Fargo are both planning to include services that allow customers to "check in" to a branch. Chase’s, called "You Know Me," will enable tellers to expect who’s coming in, and to bypass basic questions. Wells Fargo intends to launch a pilot with Bluetooth beacon technology in 2015, allowing customers to opt in to be recognized when they enter a branch. Services like this—already being tested at some Apple Stores—are meant to target the customer who spends more time in the bank.

Wells Fargo has developed a separate beacon system for use in several retailers and mall operators like Macerich to analyze in-store shoppers in real time, suggest targeted discounts, and allow them to make on-the-go payments from their phones. Such concepts were used in the bank's recent smartwatch interface prototype, which also offers users budget milestones: "Do you want to make a payment now," or "Congratulations—you’ve reached your savings goal!" Think Fitbit for banking.

The Next Phase Of Palm Reading

With all of the plans to rev up banks’ technology, there’s more of a need for security than ever. And even the most formidable firewalls haven't proved safe: In June, JPMorgan Chase suffered a massive hack that affected over a million customer accounts.

Enter biometrics, say the banks—fingerprints, handprints, voiceprints, and more. "You authenticate yourself before you make a payment; why can't you authenticate yourself before you walk into a bank?" says Chase’s digital director Avin Arumugam, who worked on the tokenization of Apple Pay and who is developing palm-scanning ATMs.

Starting next year, big banks will be using biometrics not just for authentication but also so that users can perform hands-free mobile banking on their phones or in their cars.

Jim Smith, of Wells Fargo, says users will be able to ask things like, "How much did I spend in September? "How much money was deposited into my account yesterday?" and "How much did I spend at Starbucks last week?" Users will be able to use their voice to do things like sort through transaction history, move money, and make payments.

"One of the biggest findings from the pilot was how voice made everything so much more convenient," Smith says.

The bank expects demand for services that make mobile banking easier, in keeping with a rise in mobile customers. Chase has 23% more mobile users from a year ago and saw a 61% user jump in its QuickPay feature. And wearables like Apple’s smartwatch are set to bring in more users who want to be able to conveniently bank without the use of many buttons.

"Lyons describes the heartbeat password as part of a new phenomenon called "Persistent Authentication"—enabling him to do things like "make a payment with my mobile device without a password and the potential to unlock anything that requires a key.""

Chase’s Brad Nolan says all these biometrics won't just improve customer experience but that of bankers as well, "from a holistic 'How do we manage the branch?' perspective."

"We have all kinds of keys within the branch for locks, codes, and sign-on passwords, and biometrics can provide a very easy way for our employees to access a branch, navigate within the branch, open a vault and those types of things," he says.

Among the stranger authentications in the works for 2015 is MasterCard’s collaboration with heart rate biometrics company Bionym, whose wearable device connects to an ECG sensor that reads the electrical impulses of a user's heart.

Lyons describes the idea as part of a new phenomenon called "Persistent Authentication," enabling him to do things like "make a payment with my mobile device without a password and the potential to unlock anything that requires a key," he says. "When I leave my house, it locks the door. I walk to my car, it unlocks the car, and it sets my seat settings. I walk to the office, it automatically lets me in. I walk to my laptop and it automatically logs me on."

Wells Fargo has also begun experimenting with Google Glass, which would be worn by tellers to scan guest’s faces to authenticate and bypass questions. Arumugam, Chase’s digital director, says he’s not sanguine about the whole face-scanning idea, preferring instead to use his phone as his banking device.

"I'm not going to sit here and talk about using people's faces for our tellers to scan," he says. "The technology is interesting but I think we are really protective of our customers' privacy and understanding how we want to interact with them. How we blend that [technology-advanced authentication] in with the consumer, with the real world—that's the challenge."

Correction: an earlier version of this story said that current U.S. mobile payments were valued at $3.7 billion; the actual number for 2014 is $52 billion. We regret the error.

[Oculus rift: Flickr user Sergey Galyonkin, ATM: Flickr user megawatts86]

Monday, November 3, 2014

Next Centuries Cities coalition


At least 20 additional American cities have expressed a formal interest in joining a coalition that's dedicated to bringing gigabit internet speeds to their residents by any means necessary—even if it means building the infrastructure themselves. The Next Centuries Cities coalition launched last week with an impressive list of 32 cities in 19 states who recognize that fast internet speeds unencumbered by fast lanes or other tiered systems are necessary to keep residents and businesses happy. That launch was so successful that 20 other cities have expressed formal interest in joining, according to the group's executive director.

 More than two dozen cities in 19 states announced today that they're sick of big telecom skipping them over for internet infrastructure upgrades and would like to build gigabit fiber networks themselves and help other cities follow their lead. The Next Century Cities coalition, which includes a couple cities that already have gigabit fiber internet for their residents, was devised to help communities who want to build their own broadband networks navigate logistical and legal challenges to doing so.

Skynet is coming. But not like in the movie: The future of communications is high-altitude solar-powered drones, flying 13 miles above the ground, running microwave wireless equipment, delivering broadband to the whole planet. The articles predicts this technology will replace satellites, fiber, and copper, and fundamentally change the broadband industry. The author predicts a timescale of roughly 20 years — the same amount of time between Arthur C. Clarke predicting geosynchronous satellites and their reality as a commercial business. "Several important technology milestones need to be reached along the way. The drones that will make up Skynet have a lot more in common with satellites than the flippy-flappy helicopter drone thingies that the popular press is fixated on right now. They're really effing BIG, for one thing. And, like satellites, they go up, and stay up, pretty much indefinitely. For that to happen, we need two things: lighter, higher-capacity wireless gear; and reliable, hyper-efficient solar tech."

Friday, October 31, 2014

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Google, Magic Leap Augmented Reality

According to a press release revealed today, Magic Leap has closed a $524 million Series B funding round led by Google; the deal had been rumored as of last week. Magic Leap, which has been in stealth since its inception, is being a bit more wordy now that the deal has closed (but hardly less vague). The company is now soliciting developers on its website and says that “under the appropriate non-disclosures, we’d love to talk possibilities.”

Magic Leap appears to be working on an augmented reality wearable which uses a lightfield display that can apparently generate very realistic looking imagery, not only from a graphical standpoint, but also from physiologically accurate standpoint—possibly utilizing a lightfield’s unique ability to render imagery that has perfect stereoscopy, including accurate accommodation and vergence.
See Also: Reportedly on the Verge of a $500m Investment, Here’s What We Know About Magic Leap
Magic Leap’s Series B was led by Google and also included Qualcomm Ventures, Legendary Entertainment, KKR, Vulcan Capital, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Obvious Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz (which invested in Oculus), and others, according to a press release issued by Magic Leap. Some have speculated that Google’s interest in Magic Leap’s technology comes from the desire to integrate it with Google Glass, the company’s wearable display.

“Sundar Pichai, SVP of Android, Chrome and Apps at Google Inc., will join Magic Leap’s board of directors. Dr. Paul E. Jacobs, Executive Chairman of Qualcomm Incorporated and Don Harrison, Vice-President, Corporate Development at Google Inc. will join the board of directors of Magic Leap as observers,” reads the release. “The company will use the proceeds to accelerate product development, release software development tools, expand its content ecosystem, and commercialize its proprietary mobile wearable system.”

The company’s massive Series B comes after a $50 million Series A which closed earlier this year in February and interestingly involved Weta Workshop, installing co-founder Richard Taylor onto Magic Leap’s board of directors.

Now that the deal is done, Magic Leap has made some updates to its website, revealing a touch more info, but still not sufficiently spilling the secret that led Google and others to drop more than half a billion dollars on the company.
magic leap light field display
Magic Leap leads us to believe that this photo is representative of what their technology can do, though it may just be a concept rendering.

“Using our Dynamic Digitized Lightfield Signal™, imagine being able to generate images indistinguishable from real objects and then being able to place those images seamlessly into the real world,” teases the company’s ‘Developers’ page, which is now open for developers to submit their interest. “For the time being, we’re being a little tight-lipped in what we’re communicating publicly, but under the appropriate non-disclosures, we’d love to talk possibilities,” it continues. In the digging we did recently, we found that the company may be releasing development kits at some point over the course of the next year.

The company has also launched a beefy hiring page with 68 available positions covering hardware engineering, core software engineering, perception/machine vision, gaming, and administration.
Assuming that the company has perfected the miniaturized lightfield display and is capable of generating high fidelity AR imagery, questions still remain: What’s the field of view? Can they nail the all-important head tracking? What are the limitations of the display’s transparency and color reproduction? Hopefully we’ll have these answered in time.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

First Demonstration of Artificial Intelligence On a Quantum Computer


"Machine learning algorithms use a training dataset to learn how to recognize features in images and use this 'knowledge' to spot the same features in new images. The computational complexity of this task is such that the time required to solve it increases in polynomial time with the number of images in the training set and the complexity of the "learned" feature. So it's no surprise that quantum computers ought to be able to rapidly speed up this process. Indeed, a group of theoretical physicists last year designed a quantum algorithm that solves this problem in logarithmic time rather than polynomial, a significant improvement."

Now, a Chinese team has successfully implemented this artificial intelligence algorithm on a working quantum computer, for the first time. The information processor is a standard nuclear magnetic resonance quantum computer capable of handling 4 qubits. The team trained it to recognize the difference between the characters '6' and '9' and then asked it to classify a set of handwritten 6s and 9s accordingly, which it did successfully. The team says this is the first time that this kind of artificial intelligence has ever been demonstrated on a quantum computer and opens the way to the more rapid processing of other big data sets — provided, of course, that physicists can build more powerful quantum computers.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Navy Tests Unpowered Exoskeleton

(Wired) -- Military work is physically demanding—and we're not just talking about soldiers on the battlefield. Travel down the chain, and you'll find plenty of positions where strength and stamina are highly valued skills.

Take the Navy for example. The Navy needs ships and those ships need to be built and maintained—a rough, physically draining job. Sandblasting, riveting, and grinding excess metal off the ships can take a toll on the human body. You're often carrying tools that can weigh upwards of 30 pounds.
"There's a lot of wear and tear on you," says Adam Miller, director of new initiatives for Lockheed Martin. "Skilled workers can maybe do that for three to four minutes then they need to put the tool down and they need to rest."

For the past couple of years, Miller has been leading a team of engineers and designers to create one of the first industrial-use exoskeletons. Called the FORTIS, the exoskeleton is able to support tools of up to 36 pounds and transfer that load from a worker's hands and arms to the ground. The goal is to lighten workers' loads, ultimately making them more productive and skilled at their jobs.

The U.S. Navy recently bought two of the exoskeletons and plans to test them over the next six months to see how they might be used in an industrial situation.
Compared to something like the TALOS (Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit), a computerized exoskeleton that essentially wants to turn mere mortals into Iron Man, the FORTIS is fairly simple.
"I would call it elegant," says Miller. The anodized aluminum and carbon fiber skeleton weighs 30 pounds, and follows along the outside of a human's body. It has joints in the parts of the body that would regularly have joints (ankle, knee, hip) and flexes from side to side at the waist. Miller says the skeleton was designed for complex environments—whoever is wearing it can climb stairs or a ladder, squat and generally move business as usual in the exoskeleton.

Tools mount to the front of the FORTIS and that weight is directed through the joints in the hip and down to the floor, relieving stress on the entire body, including the feet and ankles.

Watch and Learn
The design team began by watching how humans walk. "You have to look at biomechanics of the person because it's not just a stand; it's really something they can move around in," says Miller. The FORTIS was designed so it could slip over a worker's boot—this is important since feet often communicate the first signs of weariness. It's like running in a pair of crappy shoes; it impacts your entire body. Many exoskeletons transfer that weight to the sole of the foot, but this is a problem, says Miller.

"When the weight of the tools and exoskeleton itself is transferred to the ground, it comes to rest on the sole," he says. "However, a sole can also contribute to user discomfort, increased metabolic cost to the user and introduces instability." Instead, the FORTIS uses a stirrup that attaches to the ankle, allowing the foot to rest on the ground as usual.
I would call it elegant.

Adam Miller, Lockheed Martin
Early tests show that the exoskeleton has increased productivity anywhere from two to 27 times, depending on the task. The team measured the amount of time a worker could hold a 16-pound grinder overhead without having to rest his arms. "The longest operators could work continuously without a break was three minutes sustained without augmentation," says Miller. "Using the FORTIS, operators could work 30 minutes or longer without requiring rest breaks."

Lockheed Martin has been developing exoskeleton technology for the past five years. Its other exoskeleton, the HULC, is hydraulic-powered and can support up to 200 pounds. The HULC was designed to be used on the field, during battle.

The FORTIS' capabilities are scaled down, but with its focus on mobility, you can imagine that it could be useful for other industries like construction or mining—"anywhere there's a complex and irregular environment," says Miller. "We're expecting other industries to see it and say, 'We want something similar.'"

Monday, October 13, 2014

Statisticians Uncover What Makes For a Stable Marriage writes Randy Olson, a Computer Science grad student who works with data visualizations, writes about seven of the biggest factors that predict what makes for a long term stable marriage in America. Olson took the results of a study that polled thousands of recently married and divorced Americans and and asked them dozens of questions about their marriage (PDF): How long they were dating, how long they were engaged, etc. After running this data through a multivariate model, the authors were able to calculate the factors that best predicted whether a marriage would end in divorce. "What struck me about this study is that it basically laid out what makes for a stable marriage in the US," writes Olson. Here are some of the biggest factors:

How long you were dating (Couples who dated 1-2 years before their engagement were 20% less likely to end up divorced than couples who dated less than a year before getting engaged. 
Couples who dated 3 years or more are 39% less likely to get divorced.)

How much money you make (The more money you and your partner make, the less likely you are to ultimately file for divorce. Couples who earn $125K per year are 51% less likely to divorce than couples making 0 — 25k)

How often you go to church (Couples who never go to church are 2x more likely to divorce than regular churchgoers.)

Your attitude toward your partner (Men are 1.5x more likely to end up divorced when they care more about their partner's looks, and women are 1.6x more likely to end up divorced when they care more about their partner's wealth.)

How many people attended the wedding ("Crazy enough, your wedding ceremony has a huge impact on the long-term stability of your marriage. 

Perhaps the biggest factor is how many people attend your wedding: Couples who elope are 12.5x more likely to end up divorced than couples who get married at a wedding with 200+ people.")

How much you spent on the wedding (The more you spend on your wedding, the more likely you'll end up divorced.)

Whether you had a honeymoon (Couples who had a honeymoon are 41% less likely to divorce than those who had no honeymoon).

Of course correlation is not causation. For example, expensive weddings may simply attract the kind of immature and narcissistic people who are less likely to sustain a successful marriage and such people might end up getting divorced even if they married cheaply. But "the particularly scary part here is that the average cost of a wedding in the U.S. is well over $30,000," says Olson, "which doesn't bode well for the future of American marriages."

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Oculus: first complete, well funded VR research team in close to 20 years


An anonymous reader writes Buried toward the end of the must-watch keynote by Oculus VR's Chief Scientist, Michael Abrash, was the announcement of a new research division within Oculus which Abrash says is the "first complete, well funded VR research team in close to 20 years." He says that their mission is to advance VR and that the research division will publish its findings and also work with university researchers. The company is now hiring "first-rate programmers, hardware engineers, and researchers of many sorts, including optics, displays, computer vision and tracking, user experience, audio, haptics, and perceptual psychology," to be part of Oculus Research.


Friday, October 10, 2014

Nylon Maiden

This is pretty hilarious. I almost didn't click but I'm glad I did.

Flash of the Blade

Aces High

Flight of Icarus

The Trooper

Run to the Hills

The Prisoner

Superfast Internet connections are likely to open up new kinds of communication such as "telepresence"

Washington (AFP) - Superfast Internet connections are likely to open up new kinds of communication such as "telepresence" and improve services such as remote health care, a survey of experts showed Thursday.

The ultrafast connections, expected to be widely deployed in the coming years, can open up a range of possibilities by delivering "immersive" experiences and virtual reality, according to the experts polled by the Pew Research Center and Elon University.

"People's basic interactions and their ability to 'be together' and collaborate will change in the age of vivid telepresence -- enabling people to instantly 'meet face-to-face' in cyberspace with no travel necessary," the report said.

Additionally, the report said that "augmented reality will extend people's sense and understanding of their real-life surroundings and virtual reality will make some spaces, such as gaming worlds and other simulated environments, even more compelling places to hang out."

The report is not based on a random poll, but instead an opt-in survey of people deemed experts or affiliated with certain organizations, taken between November 2013 and January 2014.
Pew invited more than 12,000 experts and others who follow technology trends to share their opinions on the likely future of the Internet and 2,551 responded to at least one of the questions.
The report focused on possibilities of "gigabit connectivity" or speeds of 1,000 megabits per second -- around 50 to 100 times faster than the average fixed high-speed connection.

As some systems with these speeds are being deployed by Google and others, a number of Internet users have been questioning how useful these connections will be, the report noted.

The experts said they believe a "killer app" is likely to emerge, but it is not yet clear what that will be.
"As gigabit bandwidth becomes widespread later this decade, applications will emerge which exploit the combination of big data, GPS location, weather, personal-health monitoring devices, industrial production, and much more," said William Schrader, co-founder of PSINet Inc.

"Gigabit bandwidth is one of the few real 'build it and they will come' moments for new killer apps. The fact that no one had imagined the other killer apps prior to seeing them grow rapidly implies that no one can imagine these new ones -- including me."

David Weinberger, a researcher at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society, said that with these connections, "There will be full, always-on, 360-degree environmental awareness, a semantic overlay on the real world, and full-presence massive open online courses. Plus Skype won't break up nearly as much."

Marti Hearst, a professor at the University of California-Berkeley, said the new connections means people will "play sports and music virtually, distributed, across the globe" and that some can have "virtual Thanksgiving dinner with the other side of the family."

Higher speeds will also lead to "higher adoption of telesurgery and remote medical support" and more sensor data from medical devices being collected and stored, according to Jason Hong of Carnegie Mellon University, who predicted "far better telepresence, in terms of video quality, audio quality (and) robotic control."

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Scientists Coax Human Embryonic Stem Cells Into Making Insulin


A team of Harvard scientists said Thursday that they had finally found a way to turn human embryonic stem cells into cells that produce insulin. The long-sought advance could eventually lead to new ways to help millions of people with diabetes.

Right now, many people with diabetes have to regularly check the level of sugar in their blood and inject themselves with insulin to keep the sugar in their blood in check. It's an imperfect treatment.
"This is kind of a life-support for diabetics," says Doug Melton, a stem-cell researcher at Harvard Medical School. "It doesn't cure the disease and leads to devastating complications of the disease."
People with poorly controlled diabetes can suffer complications such as blindness, amputations and heart attacks.

Researchers have had some success transplanting insulin-producing cells from cadavers into people with diabetes. But it's been difficult to procure enough cells to treat large numbers of patients. So scientists have been trying to figure out how they could get more cells more easily.
For Melton, who led the work at Harvard, this has been a personal quest. His son, Sam, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when he was 6 months old, and his daughter, Emma, was diagnosed with the disease when she was 14.

"I do what any parent would do, which is to say, 'I'm not going to put up with this, and I want to find a better way,' " he says.

And now Melton and his colleagues are reporting in a paper being published in this week's issue of the journal Cell that they think they have finally found that better way.
"We are reporting the ability to make hundreds of millions of cells — the cell that can read the amount of sugar in the blood which appears following a meal and then squirts out or secretes just the right amount of insulin," Melton says.

The advance came after laboring for more than 15 years to find a way to turn human embryonic stem cells into so-called beta cells in the pancreas that make insulin.
Dozens of scientists spent years analyzing the cells' genes and experimenting with different combinations of chemical signals to try to coax the cells into becoming beta cells. Finally, they came up with a recipe that appears to work, Melton says.

"A short way of saying this might be like if you were going to make a very fancy kind of new cake — like a raspberry chocolate cake with vanilla frosting or something," Melton says. "You pretty much know all the components you have to add. But it's the way you add them and the order and the timing, how long you cook it, etc. The solution to that just took a very long time."
And when Melton and his colleagues transplanted the cells into mice with diabetes, the results were clear — and fast.

"We can cure their diabetes right away — in less than 10 days," he says. "This finding provides a kind of unprecedented cell source that could be used for cell transplantation therapy in diabetes."
Other scientists hailed the research as a major step forward.

"It's a huge landmark paper. I would say it's bigger than the discovery of insulin," says Jose Olberholzer, a professor of bioengineering at the University of Illinois. "The discovery of insulin was important and certainly saved millions of people, but it just allowed patients to survive but not really to have a normal life. The finding of Doug Melton would really allow to offer them really something what I would call a functional cure. You know, they really wouldn't feel anymore being diabetic if they got a transplant with those kind of cells."

Melton and others caution that there's still a lot more work to do. For one thing, they need to come up with a way to hide the cells from the immune system, especially for people with Type 1 diabetes. But they're working on that and have developed a shell to protect the cells.
"We're thinking about it as sort of like a teabag, where the tea stays inside, and the water goes in and then the dissolved tea comes out," Melton says. "And so, if you think about a teabag analogy, we would put our cells inside this teabag."

But that's not the only problem. Some people have moral objections to anything that involves human embryonic stem cell research because it destroys human embryos.
"If, like me, someone considers the human embryo to be imbued with the same sorts of dignity that the rest of us have, then in fact this is morally problematic," says Daniel Sulmasy, a doctor and bioethicist at the University of Chicago. "It's the destruction of an individual unique human life for the sole purpose of helping other persons."

Melton thinks he can also make insulin cells using another kind of stem cell known as an induced pluripotent stem cell, which doesn't destroy any embryos. He's trying to figure out if it works as well, and hopes to start testing his insulin cells in people with diabetes within three years.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Bionic Hands Mimic Human Control With Sensation of Touch

New advances in prosthetic devices are allowing people with artificial hands to tell when they’re holding something without even looking, and pluck a stem from a cherry without bursting it, two studies have shown.

Different groups in the U.S. and Europe today reported key breakthroughs in connecting healthy nerves to a prosthesis, giving patients whose hands or arms have been amputated better control of the devices and, for the first time, returning at least some of the sensation of touch.

In one study, U.S. surgeons connected electrodes to nerves in a man’s forearm that were stimulated when someone placed something in his bionic hand. The procedure allowed the patient to tell when he was touching something without having to see it. In the other report, Swedish scientists surgically connected a titanium rod to existing bone, nerves and muscles in an undamaged part of the arm, then ran wires through the prosthesis helping the patient control its use more precisely.

“What is fascinating about this is the perception of touch actually occurs in the brain, not in the hand itself,” said Dustin Tyler, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at Case Western Research University in Cleveland, who led the U.S. effort. “Losing the limb is just losing the switch that turns that sensation on or off.”
Patient wearing a prosthetic limb directly attached to the skeleton and neuromuscular... Read More
Both results were reported today in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
Igor Spetic, 48, said he vividly remembers the first time he felt his right hand again, two years after it was amputated following an industrial accident. Researchers working to craft his prosthetic pulled a curtain to limit his view and then placed a large, hard block into his palm.

‘Amazing’ Feeling

“I hadn’t felt anything other than pain for two years,” he said by telephone. The new sense of feeling “was amazing. It felt like my hand was actually working, that I didn’t have a prosthetic. That’s how close to reality it was for me.”
The new hand allows Spetic to perform routine tasks in a laboratory without serious thought or concentration, he said, including picking up and drinking from a flimsy water bottle without squirting it all over or plucking stems from a cherry without bursting it.
There are currently 19 spots on the prosthetic that Spetic can feel. That’s likely to double or triple within a year, Tyler said in a telephone interview.

‘Refined’ Sensation

“The thing we like is that we can get that refined of sensation,” Tyler said. “There was skepticism before we did this work that we could get that kind of control. Now we know this has the potential for a true restoration of sensation for people when they are missing their hand.”
Source: Tyler Lab, Cleveland VA Medical Center via EurekAlert
An illustration of the nerve interface.
Spetic said the most unexpected benefit was the end of his phantom pain, which he often felt as if he was fiercely clenching his fist. “That was a bonus they didn’t anticipate,” he said.
When researchers vary the intensity, frequency and location of the stimulation, it allows Spetic to pick up the signals for different fabrics such as burlap and cotton, textures like sandpaper, and motion such as a pulse or water running across his hand. There remain several steps ahead.
For now, the sensors on his prosthetic arm are taped to the outside of the device, making it impossible to use at home. The researchers are working on an integrated system that would be sturdy enough for routine use. The sensors also can’t yet distinguish between textures, so Spetic only feels unique sensations beyond a tingling or pressure when the researchers deliver the stimulation.

Swedish Study

The Swedish scientists, meanwhile, developed a fully integrated robotic arm. Their patient, identified only as Magnus, has used the device at home and work for the past year, even sleeping with it attached.

The tight connections allow Magnus, a truck driver, to have more precise, natural control over the arm. He can tie his children’s shoes, catch a ball out of the air and even crack an egg on command, according to their report in the journal. Using his old electric prosthesis, an egg or ball would fly out of his hand if he moved too quickly or extended his arm too far.

“The major contribution of our work is we have this interface that allows implanted electrodes to become clinically viable,” said Max Ortiz Catalan, a research scientist at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden. “Patients can take them home and use their prosthesis for their activities of daily living. We know it’s reliable and long-term,” he said in a telephone interview.
Ortiz Catalan is planning a larger study of the devices, currently used only for Magnus, next year. The Cleveland researchers already are working with another amputee and companies to try to devise a prosthetic that incorporates the sensors into the device itself.

(An earlier version of this story misspelled Spetic’s last name.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Michelle Fay Cortez in Minneapolis at
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Reg Gale at Andrew Pollack

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Biofeedback Used To Make People Anxious, Mindfulness App

Biofeedback is well-known as a relaxation technique, but the HCI Lab of the University of Udine has tried to use it for the opposite purpose: making people anxious. The technique, described by a paper in the November 2014 issue of the Interacting with Computers journal, exploits heartbeat detection. While users navigated a 3D world, the computer detected and played their actual heartbeat (users were not told it was theirs) in the audio background of the virtual world. At a couple of times during the experience, the application artificially increased the frequency of the played heartbeat and then reverted it to the actual one after some seconds. The study described in the paper contrasts the technique with aversive stimuli frequently used in video games when the character gets hurt such as decreasing health bars or increasing the frequency of an heartbeat sound that is not related to the user's actual heartbeat. The biofeedback-based technique produced much larger (subjective as well as physiological) levels of user anxiety than those classic aversive stimuli.

AEON mindfulness app:

Monday, October 6, 2014

Microsoft's "RoomAlive" Transforms Any Room Into a Giant Xbox Game

Microsoft has unveiled a new augmented reality experience called "RoomAlive". Using projectors and Kinect, RoomAlive allows for fully interactive gaming experiences that take up an entire 3D space. From the article: "RoomAlive builds on the familiar concepts of IllumiRoom, but pushes things a lot further by extending an Xbox gaming environment to an entire living room. It's a proof-of-concept demo, just like IllumiRoom, and it combines Kinect and projectors to create an augmented reality experience that is interactive inside a room. You can reach out and hit objects from a game, or interact with games through any surfaces of a room. RoomAlive tracks the position of a gamers head across all six Kinect sensors, to render content appropriately."


Sunday, October 5, 2014

Bill Gates: Bitcoin Is 'Better Than Currency'

After long remaining mostly mum on Bitcoin, Microsoft's legendary co-founder Bill Gates has spoken. At the Sibos 2014 financial-services industry conference in Boston, America's richest man just threw his weight behind the controversial cryptocash. Well, at least as a low-cost payments solution. ... "Bitcoin is exciting because it shows how cheap it can be," he told Erik Schatzker during a Bloomberg TV's Smart Street show interview yesterday (video). "Bitcoin is better than currency in that you don't have to be physically in the same place and, of course, for large transactions, currency can get pretty inconvenient." ... While he seems relatively bullish on how inexpensive transacting in Bitcoin can be, Gates isn't singing the praises of its anonymity. The billionaire alluded in an oblique, somewhat rambling fashion to some of the more nefarious anonymous uses associated with Bitcoin. 

PayPal, meet Bitcoin.

This week, the payment processing company PayPal took its first venture into the world of all-digital money.

Merchants that work with eBay's (EBAY, Tech30) PayPal can now easily start accepting payments from customers that use Bitcoin (XBT), an independent, government-less currency.

PayPal struck a deal with three Bitcoin payment-processing companies: BitPay, Coinbase and GoCoin.

Bitcoin is an Internet-based system of money specifically designed to cut out middlemen, like banks and governments. So, it sounds odd to have Bitcoin processors. But they make it easier for everyday, non-tech-savvy businesses to accept bitcoins -- and immediately convert them to cash.
But why take bitcoins -- which have fluctuated in price from $1,100 and $400 in the last year -- instead of proven government money?

The system offers much lower transaction fees, which cost businesses a huge amount of money. The 2%-3% that shops pay in credit card swiping fees can obliterate their profits.
Consider this PayPal's first -- but not last -- foray into the world of Bitcoin. The company has made clear that its interest in Bitcoin runs more than skin deep.

In the last year, eBay's two top executives -- CEO John Donahoe and former president David Marcus -- have expressed interest in Bitcoin's technology.

PayPal's senior director of corporate strategy, Scott Ellison, told CNNMoney the company is most intrigued by the potential to harness the technology that lies at the heart of the Bitcoin system, a public ledger called a blockchain. It's a totally new way of thinking about transactions. It keeps records that are decentralized and keeps users semi-anonymous while making their transactions public.

"We think Bitcoin has tremendous opportunities going forward," Ellison said. "If you really want to understand how a technology works, you need to actually be in that technological space yourself."
Ellison said the move integrating Bitcoin into PayPal is a continuation of the company's view of itself as "the original payment disruptors."

Jose Pagliery is the author of Bitcoin - And the Future of Money (Triumph Books, Chicago).

Monday, September 29, 2014

Nixie Wearable Drone Camera Flies Off Your Wrist

Intel Edison-Powered Nixie Wearable Drone Camera Flies Off Your Wrist To Capture The Moment

There are very few products that have genuinely made me go "wow", but I can safely add the Nixie drone camera to that modest list. Over the past couple of years, drones have become popular enough to the point where a new release doesn't excite most people. But Nixie is different. It's a drone that you wear, like a bracelet. Whenever you want to let it soar, you give it a command to unwrap, power-up, and let it go...
 From the consumer standpoint, the most popular use for drones is to capture some amazing footage. But what if you want to be in that footage? That's where Nixie comes in. After "setting your camera free", the drone soars around you, keeping you in its frame. Unfortunately, my Nixie would capture me most often writing on the computer, but you can probably understand the appeal to those who are doing anything worth capturing on video. Examples given include mountain climbing, hanging out with a friend at the park, biking through a trail, and jumping off of a boat.
This is one of those products that's really hard to do justice through text, so I highly encourage you check out this video:
 Nixie is powered by Intel's Edison kit, which is both small enough and affordable enough to fit inside such a small device. Admittedly, Nixie isn't that small, and it'll be very noticeable on your wrist, but with what it can do, I don't think many people would mind.
Here's another video to help whet your appetite.
Absolutely no information about availabilty seems to be listed anywhere, but if you head on over to the official website (linked to below), you can add your email to the company's mailing list to keep up-to-date.