Archive for the 'technology' Category

10 Web and iPhone Apps that Need to Happen, Stat

Transmitted on Aug 31 2009 to technology

Think every idea for an internet startup is taken? Think all the “good stuff” on mobile platforms has been squeezed out of the Web, so that all we’ll be left with are lolcats and iFart?

There are still hundreds of ways to provide solid value to people– and more all the time. To prove the point, I decided to spend an hour and think up some new ideas– none of which are (at this point) taken. Feel free to develop them as you wish :)
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10 Ways to Stop Wasting Time Online

Transmitted on Apr 19 2009 to technology

I’m fascinated by the sheer volume of information on the Web.

Many of us are at least partly familiar with the “Wikipedia effect” (captured succinctly below by xkcd’s Randall Munroe). You start off on one, well-intentioned search, and minutes (or is it hours? or is it days?) later you’ve found yourself reading up on something completely unrelated. It’s hard to say what causes such scattered thinking: part of it is interest, certainly, but there’s more to it than that.

There seems to be something intrinsic about the nature of Web-based information that allows for such a freeform approach to learning new things. Decades ago, when television allowed us to flip channels and potentially explore new (and unrelated) things, we remained hooked in to the whims of the channel operators. We might discover something new on the cooking channel, but it was dictated largely by whatever the cooking channel happened to have on. For those of us who grew up without cable– wow!– that cooking channel might not even exist.

Now, of course, things are radically different from the various forms of entertainment and knowledge accessibility our parents and grandparents enjoyed. Virtually all information online is put on equal footing (though it might be filtered and condensed by blogs and Google) and there are no barriers to discovering content that might previously have been hidden for nationalist, cultural, lawful or ideological reasons. This is an open ocean, and we rely far more on others to direct our attention.
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The Post-Digital Lifestyle

Transmitted on Sep 23 2008 to technology

I recently came upon the term “post-digital”, here described by its (presumed) creator, John Maeda.

I am often asked what my term “post digital” signifies. It is a term that I created as a way to acknowledge a distinction between those that are passed [sic] their fascination with computers, and are now driven by the ideas instead of the technology. It is not an expression of Luddite-ism nor is it a loaded term like that icky “post modernism” business. If we are to consider the book by Nicholas Negroponte, Being Digital, as an affirmation that the computer has arrived, then the “post digital” generation refers to the growing few that have already been digital, and are now more interested in Being Human. Buying a good computer is easy. Being a good person is something that cannot be merely bought… even on the great god of eBay.

This idea is really interesting for a few reasons: for one, it’s important to realize that technological “breakthroughs” don’t necessarily signify real progress. The only progress we can measure is what happens in our own heads, the awareness we have of ourselves and our world, the new thinking that comes with these new technologies. If we don’t acquire a fundamentally new (or fundamentally more complete) reality as a result of our technologies, we are actively losing ground.

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“Nanophotography” Captures Nature’s Microscopic Beauty

Transmitted on Apr 28 2008 to technology

A new gallery of microscopic photography over at Wired presents some stunning glimpses of the very small. This gold crystal was captured through a state-of-the-art imaging process which runs tiny lasers back and forth across a surface, detecting even the smallest textural detail. Beautiful work.


Farewell, Clarke

Transmitted on Mar 18 2008 to technology

Arthur C. Clarke, one of the pioneering minds of science fiction and a significant scientist and inventor, passed away at the age of 90 today. Many of his words have served me in my deepest inspirations over the years, and his startlingly prescient novels somehow become more relevant with time. From 2001 to Childhood’s End to (my favorite) The Light of Other Days (coauthored with Stephen Baxter), Clarke’s stories entangled Eastern thought with a Science both powerful and savagely human; his characters, flawed and often unaware of the significance of their actions, confronted awe-inspiring and immeasurable ethical, spiritual, and moral challenges with ingenuity, maturity, and of course, incredible new technologies that, more often than not, caused more problems than they solved. Ultimately mankind, at least in Clarke’s mind, would always rise to the occasion… even if it meant growing up a little.

Rest in peace, Arthur. We owe our future to you.

Thoughts/Followup on Macbook Air

Transmitted on Jan 16 2008 to technology

I wanted to take a moment to reaffirm what I had stated in the previous post on Macbook Air, and to respond to some criticism about my thinking. Now that it’s actually been released, and we’ve actually seen it, I hope to explain my ideas in greater depth (while, presumably, being a little less long-winded!).

So we didn’t get inductive charging--yet--and we didn’t get an always-on wireless connection. What we did get is 802.11n, a wider-range wireless standard, a backlight keyboard, and dimensions even less than we expected. The Macbook Air fits in a manilla envelope, for God’s sake. It’s got more than its fair share of design compromises, but it’s also got a virtually unheard-of flexibility.

Going back to why I was convinced of the importance of this product, it’s essentially because we will very soon be entering a world in which cords simply don’t exist. The internet has already reduced physical space requirements dramatically: what we’re seeing now is design beginning to reflect our innately human need to move and be and do, wherever we are.
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“Macbook Air”– And What It (Maybe) Means

Transmitted on Jan 14 2008 to technology

I really must be a nerd, somehow, or one who’s really just affected by design in some (possibly-twisted) way, but…

Macbook Air (Wired Render)
Macbook Air (Wired Render)
(Images from Wired Blog: this is a mockup (not a photo) of an envisioned ultra-thin Apple laptop featuring wireless charging, a multi-touch input system, and an always-on, ubiquitous wireless connection that replaces the need for ethernet ports.)

I don’t know how else to express it, but this look–even though I know it probably isn’t quite the real thing– is so beautiful, so absolutely essential to our time, that I hesitate in saying that this might in fact change our entire sense of what technology is. Not now, oh no… not with Leopard’s bugs and a window-based interface and the clumsy hacked-together kludge of the Web at this particular moment. Not even, maybe, for ten or fifteen years. But this is the first object that may well be designed for who we really are as people. We are explorers. We were out there hunting and gathering and using our hands–that is, until we recently decided to take that little industrialized break and coop ourselves up in our homes. We spend a lot of our time feeling like we aren’t really doing enough, and that worry leaks out in our aggressive spending, our internal dramas, our petty goals. We stopped being in touch with what it really felt like to be alive. We built great tools, and gradually our tools became our focus; somewhere along the line, we lost track of the absurdity of this compromise.

The real promise of the Web has always been its omniscience. It has nothing to do with information, or information overload– it has to do with ubiquity and transparency. It has to do with offloading the sum of human consciousness and leaving it floating out there, a sea of awareness permeating us like a second soul. Think different, people. This has nothing to do with specs. Nothing to do with current technology–or the lack of an optical drive. This is about coming a step closer to organic technology.

Like the iPhone, which was the result of a realization that people like to control THINGS, not the abstract representations of them, this Macbook Air heralds a different kind of future. One in which our primary untethered-ness is finally understood; one in which our need to just live life is finally brought back into focus. Computers are a long long way from being truly intuitive, but this design evokes something incredible, something thrilling in me. We are leaving behind the wires, the force, the efforts of communicating with a stupid machine. We are free, and so is it. We are endlessly capable, and so (battery life willing) is it.

When Apple does its best work, they create products that are so perfect in their approach that they literally cannot be reimagined.

Looking at this machine, I can honestly say that it is this level of perfection. Not necessarily in specs, in its minutae or in daily use; I mean as an idea, as a created object, as a trendsetter. The iPod wasn’t perfect either when it first debuted, but it was obvious why it was needed. It removed everything but the experience of choosing what to listen to and hearing it. It removed the technology and became an extension of one’s life.

The Macbook Air, with inductive-based charging and ubiquitous networking, if such things ever came together (and if they came together tomorrow? oh my god) is another of these ideas. Something so radically ahead on a fundamental level that we don’t even know how amazing it will become.

For Apple to come back to the “tiny laptop” game, they realized they needed something new, something revolutionary to justify the absence. We’ve been expecting decent upgrades from them, but we forget that this is a brand-new Apple, one so visionary as to often arrive at solutions before anyone understands the depth of the problem; a company that innovates even when no one understands what it is they can see. When they made a music player, they made the iPod, for god’s sake. When they made a phone, it wasn’t a phone– it was a new way to communicate with technology.

Well, they’re back, and they removed such a huge part of the “computer” from the equation–the charging cables, ethernet, tethered disks (Time Machine backup to AirPort MUST be coming…) the extra weight, and maybe even the need for wi-fi tethering–that it is now the digital equivalent of a notebook. It is ever-present, yet completely unobtrusive. It is as ready as you are. Long ago I envisioned (as many have– it’s not at all an original concept) a device I called “the Reader”–a notebook-type wireless communication system. This device simply existed to tap into the framework of human awareness in as unobtrusive a manner as possible. Gesture-based, context-sensitive, intelligent and uncomplicated, it would express a nearly infinite potential without ever feeling overwhelming.

Many of these ideas may make their way more readily into an Apple tablet, but I can see that their design language is definitely on to something. It’s the teardrop shape. The colors (neutrals yet superbly beautiful). The organic, weightless feeling of it. It’s the sense that this is no longer a foreign object. It’s the first step towards something altogether new–a true fusion. And it’s weightless the way we are weightless, ultimately free of any connection to anything but the earth we’re born on and the identity we give ourselves.

I know it’s all hyperbolic, and perhaps I’m simply overthinking, but if the device Apple releases tomorrow is anything like this image, it’s a bigger deal than anyone but a few people at Apple realize.

Just think about it.

(And I really don’t comment on technology much, as you know, but I feel that this is truly significant)

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