Knives on Planes – an Astonishingly Foolish TSA Decision

GATE sign for United Flight 93 Gate 17I usually don’t jump too deeply into politics here but the TSA decision to allow small knives on airplanes is simply incomprehensible. I live in NYC, I was here when 9-11 happened. I don’t ever want to experience that again.

Perhaps we’ll never see a coordinated attack on our air transportation system in the same way, but for the sake of the cabin crews alone – who are spearheading the opposition to this totally illogical decision – we owe it anyone working in the airline industry to keep potential weapons out of the air.

A petition on the Whitehouse.gov site has been set up. It needs a lot more signatures above what it has right now. Take a moment a sign it, if only to foster more discussion on the issue. Click on the petition link to go to the page and here’s some of the petition text:

Keep Knives Off the Plane. Block Transportation Security Administration Policy Decision to Accept Pre-9/11 Weapons
Before the morning of September 11, 2001, the threat of using commercial aircraft as a weapon was unknown. At great cost, we know better today. The TSA was created because blades on airplanes were used to cause this deadly attack on U.S. soil.

There’s no excuse for reversal on the policy to ban knives from the aircraft cabin. Multi-layered security, including prohibition of items that could pose a threat, ensures U.S. aviation is the safest in the world. The ban on dangerous objects is an integral layer in aviation security.

Flight Attendants serve as the last line of defense in aviation security – responsible for ensuring the safety, health and security of the passengers in our care. Join us in keeping our aircraft cabin safe. TELL THE TSA TO KEEP KNIVES OUT OF THE CABIN.

Created: Mar 06, 2013. Issues: Homeland Security and Disaster Relief, Regulatory Reform, Transportation and Infrastructure

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Meteor Over Russia

Just as we were waiting for close pass of a large meteor today, another unexpected meteor exploded over Siberia, with a sonic boom that lead to breaking glass and injuries of close to a 1,000 people including 34 that had to be hospitalized. Given the love of dashboard-mounted cameras in Russia, there’s plenty of video out there showing the remarkable meteor trail, the explosion, and some of the damage. A good write-up with many of the videos can be found in the Atlantic Wire.

All of this is just a small – and very humbling – reminder that we live in a world much larger than just the Earth, that we are part of an incredibly dynamic universe. We’re struck by objects from space every day but our atmosphere protects us. What you often see (if you don’t live in a large brightly lit urban area) and what we refer to as “Shooting Stars” are really nothing more than pebble-sized rocks burning up in the upper atmosphere. So we walk around in our protective cocoon, consumed with our own agendas and challenges, taking for granted that all is well with the world.

But every now and then the universe gently reminds us with just the smallest whisper in our ear that our little world is not so little after all, that our protective bubble is really quite porus, nothing more than a thin veil between us and a cataclysmic event like the dinosaurs experienced. Of the many videos out there this morning, this is one of the best:

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Pope Resigns and Lightning Strikes St. Peter’s Basilica

Okay, just a bizarre coincidence, I know, but it is kind of incredible that a Pope resigns – the first in almost 700 years – and within hours, a bolt of lightning strikes St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. From Gawker:

Alessandro Di Meo, one of two photographers who captured the ominous event on camera, told the BBC he was met with much skepticism after his photo went public.

“I understand that the picture may be incredible,” he said. “Photos of lightning have always been done, but the only difference, in this case, is that it is the right place and at the right time.”

But the cries of “fake” persisted, until video footage of the lightning strike finally emerged (see below). 

But you have to wonder what people would have thought 700 years back – today it is a cry of “It’s Photoshopped!” Back then, it would have meant something entirely different. But the last Pope to step down resulted in much deadlier drama – he was hunted down by his successor and died in prison. So a bolt of lightning is on the tame side.

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NYC Stories – Runaway Goat and Goat Herder

NYC is a city stories and the other night offered another of those “only in New York” moments – a runaway goat in Brooklyn that is eventually caught by police and a hospital security guard working at Interfaith Medical Center who was once a goat herder in West Africa. Details from The Gothamist.

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Search Engine Map of the United States Using Autocomplete

Here’s a whimsical map of the United States done through Yahoo! Search with the autocomplete feature on. It gives a you a sense of what people say – and look for – when it comes to typing in the name of a specific State in a search engine. Google’s results are a little different, but not that far off.

Done over on the FlipCollective, here’s a description of how this autocomplete map of the United States was put together:

The following map is based on search engine autocomplete results. Autocomplete is the stuff that pops up when you search for stuff in Google or Yahoo! or AskJeeves (probably?).

For this project, I used Yahoo!’s autocomplete (Yahoo! produced more results than Google so suck it) to find out how search engine users are describing each of the 50 states. This is what Iowa’s search looked like:

Screen shot 2013-02-04 at 1.56.21 PM

I wanted the terms to describe the states, so I weeded out unhelpful results like:

  • Questions (Iowa is in what time zone?)
  • State abbreviations (Iowa is IA)
  • Leading queries (Iowa is known for…)

From there, I’d take the topmost term that satisfied my conditions and put it on the map. Behold my results: 

And what of the end results? Some of the autocomplete terms are ridiculous, but some, dead on accurate. In a way, it’s just a glimpse of the online reputations of each State, but that says something about them and us. And when you think about it, there’s a small a SEO lesson here – it’s always worth checking to see how a website title comes up with autocomplete on. Enjoy.

Autocomplete Map of United States

Autocomplete Map of United States

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Gun Violence in United States Cities

Handgun

Since we had the Congressional hearings today with the incredible testimony of former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, it’s worthwhile looking at a map of gun violence in United States cities compared to the rates in other countries. I am a realist here – I don’t see a reason for high capacity clips and assault rifles but the data is clear that most gun violence is due to handguns. NYC Police Commissioner Ray Kelley was on CNN tonight and admitted as much – shootings here would drop less than 3% with a ban on assault rifles as it’s concealed handguns that are the weapon of choice. But tracking sales and background checks would help – as would addressing mental health issues. Ultimately, there is no single answer here.

The sports announcer Bob Costas was on The Daily Show January 28th and said in response to the recent controversy he stirred up: it is the culture of violence and permissiveness that needs to change. Smoking has gone from being cool to seriously not cool and we’ve managed to limit verbal bullying of people without taking away the First Amendment. But in too many subcultures in the U.S. it’s cool or hip to have a gun . . . and in some cases to use it (or at least threaten to). This is what has to change dramatically.

The map on gun violence in American cities published in the Atlantic comes from a number of sources – data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with work done by Zara Matheson of the Martin Prosperity Institute using additional data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, and collated by The GuardianOf course, the map is comparing urban areas to entire countries but it still reveals the staggering level of gun violence there is in some cities. I’m sure many residents would be fearful of traveling to some of the countries they are in line with even though, paradoxically, they have the same average number of deaths within their own cities.

New Orleans, sadly, takes the top honors for having the highest gun homicide rate, the same as Honduras:

Gun Violence Map of United States Cities

Gun Violence Map of United States Cities

A few more details from the article by Richard Florida:

The pattern is staggering. A number of U.S. cities have gun homicide rates in line with the most deadly nations in the world.

  • If it were a country, New Orleans (with a rate 62.1 gun murders per 100,000 people) would rank second in the world.
  • Detroit’s gun homicide rate (35.9) is just a bit less than El Salvador (39.9).
  • Baltimore’s rate (29.7) is not too far off that of Guatemala (34.8).
  • Gun murder in Newark (25.4) and Miami (23.7) is comparable to Colombia (27.1).
  • Washington D.C. (19) has a higher rate of gun homicide than Brazil (18.1).
  • Atlanta’s rate (17.2) is about the same as South Africa (17).

This level of violence should has no place in the United States. But like the issue of smoking, laws and restrictions are only part of a much larger, and much needed, cultural change.

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It’s Cold in New York

If you live in New York or much of the United States, you’ve noticed the weather this week – temperatures (in Fahrenheit) down near single digits at night. Having to sleep in the living room of my small West Village apartment with its leaky windows (I’m having issues with the ceiling in my bedroom – long story) it’s been one of those pile-every-blanket-you-have-on-the-bed kind of weeks.

But temperatures now pale in comparison to what people endured in the 19th century. Ice regularly blocked the rivers, and ice bridges formed (or were built) by enterprising New Yorkers on a regular basis. It seems that a few individuals were even able to skate to work from Brooklyn. The Gothamist has some great images and accounts of the cold weather and its impact on a very different New York. There are stories of people getting stuck on ice floes as the ice bridges broke up and having to rescued by tug boats, and young boys who charged for use of their ladders to get down to river and back up on the other side (perhaps like the umbrella sellers of our own era that appear every time it rains).

But the absolute best story is the enterprising soul that built a tavern on the North River one winter and dispensed food and drink to those walking across. Honestly, if it’s so cold that you can walk across the Hudson River to Hoboken, you do need a place to stop for a bite to eat. With ferries not running and the tunnels to a yet-to-be-built Penn Station still a few decades away, you can visualize people having to drag their luggage across the ice to catch a train from the New Jersey side down to Philadelphia or beyond. I’m trying to imagine how a modern day 1010 Wins radio station with it’s every ten minute traffic and transit news would have described this.

But (local) weather and (global) climate are not the same so we still seem to be in an era of massive global warming. Yesterday, the news pointed to a new study that concluded that glaciers in the Andes have melted at an unprecedented rate since the 1970′s, receding from 30% to 50%. Regardless what you see as the cause, global warming is a reality. So don’t despair,  we’ll soon be back up to our  seasonal temperatures (if not warmer) and New York will seem downright balmy.

New York City Ice Bridge in 1871

New York City Ice Bridge in 1871

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Funny Images from the Inauguration

Watching the Inauguration, one thing was undeniably clear: we live in a world awash in technology, where every moment is a media moment, where everyone carries a camera and digital video device through their smart phone. You almost have to wonder how people survived earlier inaugurations where the only cameras were in the hands of the credentialed press corp.

What would Jefferson and Adams had done if they could have put aside their quill pens and picked up Smart phones? With years of  animosity between them (before the touching correspondence of their final years), you can only imagine the Tweets, the Instagrams, the Facebook posts that might have flown back and forth. Not that the other “Founding Fathers” got along all that well with each other. Twitter would have been overburdened with its servers going down just like they did on this year’s  Inauguration.

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 21:  U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) (L) takes a photo as he arrives during the presidential inauguration on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol January 21, 2013 in Washington, DC.   Barack Obama was re-elected for a second term as President of the United States.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 21: U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) (L) takes a photo as he arrives during the presidential inauguration on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol January 21, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Two quick observations:

  1. Technology is a great democratizing force – perhaps in ways we do not fully understand but definitely in terms of human behavior. In this Inauguration (and one assumes even more so for those that follow), everyone takes photos and videos with their Smart phones – not just those in the audience, but celebrities and others on stage. Heck, even Piers Morgan of CNN was going on about how he did a Smart phone video of an event he was covering. Wherever there’s a crowd, people are holding their phones above their heads, recording what they see for later.
  2. Taking photos with your Apple iPad just doesn’t make sense. Okay, maybe the iPad Mini, but not the full size one. It just looks ridiculous and it’s hard to manipulate. Just because you can take a photo with an iPad doesn’t mean you should.
Red Fedora iPad Guy at Inauguration. Image; mashable.com

Red Fedora iPad Guy at Inauguration. Image; mashable.com

Sasha Yawns at the Inauguration

Sasha Yawns.

Anyways, you can have a laugh at some of the other photos and GIFs put together over at mashable.com. I doubt anyone at the Inauguration did not have at least one awkward moment, one badly timed yawn, or at least one inappropriate glance at someone else. In truth, that’s the way human existence has always been.

It’s just that now we record every single moment of human existence (at least at events like this), both on stage and off.

Of course, most of this will look somewhat silly four years from now – in the next inauguration in January 2017, people will be wearing Google Glass devices and other wearable video recorders. You won’t have to hold your phone above your head. Though on second thought, it may look even more unusual – people may have to hold their eyeglasses above their heads in order to get an unobstructed shot.

We’ll see soon enough.

 

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The Pace of Technology Change

Technology: Rusted Plow as Yard Art

Technology: Rusted Plow as Yard Art

 

On the pace of Technology change, by Kevin Kelley, posted over at PopTECH:

Five hundred years ago, technologies were not doubling in power and halving in price every eighteen months. Waterwheels were not becoming cheaper every year. A hammer was not easier to use from one decade to the next. Iron was not increasing in strength. The yield of corn seed varied by the season’s climate, instead of improving each year. Every 12 months, you could not upgrade your oxen’s yoke to anything much better than what you already had. 

Whatever you learn today, you will need to relearn tomorrow.

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The Flood of Tributes for Aaron Swartz

NOAH BERGER/REUTERS -  Aaron Swartz poses in a Borderland Books in San Francisco on February 4, 2008

NOAH BERGER/REUTERS – Aaron Swartz poses in a Borderland Books in San Francisco on February 4, 2008

Even if you didn’t who Aaron Swartz was before his suicide the other day, you probably do now. A tech prodigy (co-developer of RSS code and the website Reddit) and thoughtful young activist who fought to fulfill the real potential of our communications revolution – who Lawrence Lessig called an “incredible soul” – Swartz was facing up to 35 years in jail and millions in fines for taking documents via MIT’s network from the non-profit JSTOR repository. JSTOR was willing to settle; it seems that MIT was not. Clearly the Department of Justice was determined to prosecute this case to the bitter end.

I didn’t know Aaron but have followed his work for years. Some of the tributes by those who knew him can be found at the Guardian site.

Whether or not Aaron’s suicide is directly attributable to the legal case against him is hard to say – I tend to think that it is is but we never truly know the source of the inner demons in someone else’s mind. The family feels strongly that the court case is to blame.

What is truly frightening in all of this is the disproportionality of our intellectual property and copyright law. Mind you, Aaron was facing far more time in jail than if he had gone out and shot someone, robbed a bank, trafficked slaves, or threatened the President. Think Progress has a summary of the time you face for these crimes – if we learn anything from Aaron’s tragic death, it should be that the fear (largely from the corporate world) of the incredible ability to share ideas and resources in the digital age has spurred to a profound overreaction to protect intellectual property. Whatever Aaron did – even if one does draw the conclusion that it was outright theft – it does not measure up to the following.

Here is some of the list from Think Progress:

To put these charges in perspective, here are ten examples of federal crimes that carry lesser prison sentences than Swartz’ alleged crime of downloading academic articles in an effort to make knowledge widely available to the public:

  • Manslaughter: Federal law provides that someone who kills another human being “[u]pon a sudden quarrel or heat of passion” faces a maximum of 10 years in prison if subject to federal jurisdiction. The lesser crime of involuntary manslaughter carries a maximum sentence of only six years.
  • Bank Robbery: A person who “by force and violence, or by intimidation” robs a bank faces a maximum prison sentence of 20 years. If the criminal “assaults any person, or puts in jeopardy the life of any person by the use of a dangerous weapon or device,” this sentence is upped to a maximum of 25 years.
  • Selling Child Pornography: The maximum prison sentence for a first-time offender who “knowingly sells or possesses with intent to sell” child pornography in interstate commerce is 20 years. Significantly, the only way to produce child porn is to sexually molest a child, which means that such a criminal is literally profiting off of child rape or sexual abuse.
  • Knowingly Spreading AIDS: A person who “after testing positive for the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and receiving actual notice of that fact, knowingly donates or sells, or knowingly attempts to donate or sell, blood, semen, tissues, organs, or other bodily fluids for use by another, except as determined necessary for medical research or testing” faces a maximum of 10 years in prison.
  • Selling Slaves: Under federal law, a person who willfully sells another person “into any condition of involuntary servitude” faces a maximum prison sentence of 20 years, although the penalty can be much higher if the slaver’s actions involve kidnapping, sexual abuse or an attempt to kill.
  • Genocidal Eugenics: A person who “imposes measures intended to prevent births” within a particular racial, ethnic or religious group or who “subjects the group to conditions of life that are intended to cause the physical destruction of the group in whole or in part” faces a maximum prison term of 20 years, provided their actions did not result in a death.
  • Helping al-Qaeda Develop A Nuclear Weapon: A person who “willfully participates in or knowingly provides material support or resources . . . to a nuclear weapons program or other weapons of mass destruction program of a foreign terrorist power, or attempts or conspires to do so, shall be imprisoned for not more than 20 years.”
  • Violence At International Airports: Someone who uses a weapon to “perform[] an act of violence against a person at an airport serving international civil aviation that causes or is likely to cause serious bodily injury” faces a maximum prison sentence of 20 years if their actions do not result in a death. . . .

May his passing help us rethink our priorities and ensure that the Internet is a place of freedom.

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Life in NYC – the Fire at Whole Foods

Yes, I understand the hectic pace of life in NYC. New York is a crazy place with seven million hyperactive people packed together in too little space with too much to do and not enough time. And yes, I understand that in this setting people can easily lose site of what’s going on around them – like the people who left their cars in underground garages a block from the Hudson River when Hurricane Sandy rolled ashore with a 13 foot storm surge the other month.

On the other hand, with Sandy people were at least reacting to a prediction of a storm that the City had not experienced in literally decades. What’s harder to fathom is when the circumstances are in your face and you still persist in the task at hand.

So yesterday, there is a fire in Whole Foods down by Houston and Bowery. Not a major blaze. No billowing smoke or flames shooting out the windows. No one screaming to be rescued by a hook and ladder ruck as they dangled from a windowsill six floors up. No, this wasn’t a huge deal as far as urban fires go. But when the fire alarms go off in a building and the fire sprinklers start spraying water from the ceiling, it’s probably time to get out to the street – quickly.

Seriously – the people at the bottom of the screen are standing in line, unfazed by the equivalent of a light rain and the smell of smoke, hoping to still check out before they are forced to leave. Yes, I could have shot some video, but honestly, I think I’ll watch my fires from the sidewalk. Video via The Gothamist.

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New Year’s 2013

So we come to New Year’s 2013, surviving the (pseudo) Maya Apocalypse, going to the brink with the fiscal cliff in the United States and now lurching into a another year. I’ve been busy with friends and family (finally getting my brother to leave his live-aboard life on a boat in Key West for once and visit New York). Whatever you are doing this evening, I wish you peace and happiness in 2013.

A couple of things from around the Web on this New Year’s 2013 . . . .

Unusual Celebrations

The world abounds in unusual New Year’s celebrations – no, it isn’t all fireworks in Sydney or ball dropping in Times Square – and here’s a list of some of the stranger things that people do. From celebrating in a cemetery (Chile), torching scarecrows, a completely bizarre TV show in Germany (Dinner for One), wearing polka dots in the Philippines, to leaving mistletoe under pillows in Ireland, there’s bound to be something you haven’t done here. Details at smashinglists.

New Year's Eve Cemetery Celebrations in Chilie

New Year’s Eve Cemetery Celebrations in Chile

New Year’s 2013 in Times Square

The Atlantic magazine has an interesting piece on why we watch an 11,875 pound ball drop on New Year’s Eve in New York. Originally celebrations took place at Trinity Church downtown but moved up to the newly renamed Times Square once the New York Times built its headquarters there. Yes, it’s a media event that has its roots in one of the most venerable of media institutions. Historically, newspapers did much more than simply report the news (hint to management as they enter yet another year with dim prospects).

New York Times Building in the New Times Square

New York Times Building in the New Times Square

We Could Do better

Finally, a riff on New Year’s celebrations also from the Atlantic and via Andrew Sullivan in the Daily Dish. Yes, if there is one thing about New Year’s in America, it’s that we could do so much better. For a country that draws people from cultures all over the world, a world rich in different forms of celebration, our New Year’s seems to be one of the lamest of holidays:

On December 31, mediocre restaurants throughout America string absurd velvet ropes outside their doors, inflate black and white balloons as decoration, and charge three times the usual price for the same old fare plus bad champagne. Is it any wonder that our elders, as they grow older and wiser, opt to stay home and turn in before midnight? America’s most iconic New Year’s Eve celebration, the one that captures the attention of the whole country, has massive crowds gathering in New York City’s most garish neighborhood, where they watch a large ball drop as C-list celebrities narrate on TV. The typical NYC dweller can’t be lured to Times Square for dinner on an ordinary evening, so I can’t imagine how pre-New Year’s conversations go for those who attend. “Would you like to stand out in the freezing cold for hours with no place to sit or use the bathroom and drunks pressed against you on all sides?” 

So my wish for New Year’s 2013 – that we have a more global perspective. Technology is surely pushing us this way, but we could do our part to move it along instead of waiting to be pushed another step forward.

So think outside your national and cultural borders this year – they become ever more porous as technology transforms the way we communicate, share and interact with each other. If you do, we’ll all benefit.

Peace.

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Gun Violence in America – the Newtown Tragedy

A young boy is comforted outside Sandy Hook Elementary School after a shooting in Newtown, Connecticut,

A young boy is comforted outside Sandy Hook Elementary School after a shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, December 14, 2012 (Reuters / Michelle McLoughlin

More gun violence. My heart goes out to those affected by the tragedy in Newtown Connecticut as 20 small children and seven adults die in one of the worst massacres in U.S. history. One recoils at the horror of what the children in that school went through; and it’s impossible to fathom the pain and suffering that the families, the communities and so many others will feel.

Already the political snipping have started – Huckabee’s bizarre remark that the killings are due to God being removed from the schools ( as if this has anything to do with it) to those who argue for tougher gun control (Connecticut already has tough gun laws and the guns used were registered). There will be time enough to talk about solutions but the underlying issue here is a strain of violence that runs deep through our culture and people who can act out their mental health issues with immense firepower at their disposal.

At the same time (or the same day more or less), a man in China walked into a primary school in the Henan province village of Chengpin and attacked 22 young children and one adult. We don’t know what was troubling him, but the difference was that all the children are still alive.

He used a knife.

Here, someone picks up a Glock semiautomatic pistol and puts on a military vest before entering a primary school to shed blood. Glocks seem to be a favorite of those bent on a deadly rampage, used in killings in Arizona, Wisconsin, and Colorado. Perhaps because they’re so effective.

But I don’t see an easy answer to the gun violence here. It goes beyond access to the weapons themselves – it’s not video games, movies, or television but something else. Those are all the easy targets, the easy answers to something we do not understand.

For now, a short piece by Roger Ebert from his review of Gus Van Sant’s Elephant, and reposted in Kottke.org:

Let me tell you a story. The day after Columbine, I was interviewed for the Tom Brokaw news program. The reporter had been assigned a theory and was seeking sound bites to support it. “Wouldn’t you say,” she asked, “that killings like this are influenced by violent movies?” No, I said, I wouldn’t say that. “But what about ‘Basketball Diaries’?” she asked. “Doesn’t that have a scene of a boy walking into a school with a machine gun?” The obscure 1995 Leonardo Di Caprio movie did indeed have a brief fantasy scene of that nature, I said, but the movie failed at the box office (it grossed only $2.5 million), and it’s unlikely the Columbine killers saw it.

The reporter looked disappointed, so I offered her my theory. “Events like this,” I said, “if they are influenced by anything, are influenced by news programs like your own. When an unbalanced kid walks into a school and starts shooting, it becomes a major media event. Cable news drops ordinary programming and goes around the clock with it. The story is assigned a logo and a theme song; these two kids were packaged as the Trench Coat Mafia. The message is clear to other disturbed kids around the country: If I shoot up my school, I can be famous. The TV will talk about nothing else but me. Experts will try to figure out what I was thinking. The kids and teachers at school will see they shouldn’t have messed with me. I’ll go out in a blaze of glory.”

In short, I said, events like Columbine are influenced far less by violent movies than by CNN, the NBC Nightly News and all the other news media, who glorify the killers in the guise of “explaining” them. I commended the policy at the Sun-Times, where our editor said the paper would no longer feature school killings on Page 1. The reporter thanked me and turned off the camera. Of course the interview was never used. They found plenty of talking heads to condemn violent movies, and everybody was happy.

Everybody was happy, indeed.

Sadly, we’ll probably make ourselves happy again, finding something easy to condemn for the shooting, bemoaning the gun violence we hear about so frequently and missing the deeper issue entirely. But there will be no comfort for the people in Newtown.

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The End of the Smart Phone

I upgraded my Smart phone the other week, on Black Friday, actually. But the Apple store in the Meat Market district on Manhattan’s West Side was nearly empty (let’s face it, Apple doesn’t do major discounts for holidays). So far, I’m loving the new iPhone – faster processor, beautiful screen, LTE service – even if I sometimes chafe at Apple’s walled garden. Even the upgrade was dead simple: everything was already backed up to Apple’s iCloud service so all I had to do was download the hundred and twenty or so Apps that I have to the new device.

Disrupting the Smart Phone Ecosystem

But the entire process got me thinking about how many more Smart phones I’ll purchase before this technology is disrupted by new developments – especially the Google Glass project and Microsoft’s recent patents for augmented reality glasses. Neither of these are actually phones, but the general trend is clear. The ongoing miniaturization of technology can only mean that at some point there will be no need to carry around a bulky device such as an iPhone5 or Android phone.

Bulky?

Big Screen Smart Phones - from Apple iPhone on up to SamsungYes, bulk is relative. Just look back at the early versions of the cell phone (scroll down to see Martin Cooper’s early portable phone) which people thought was the height of mobility.

The current size that we now have is not the end of the road and the real issue is screen real estate (with Apple opting to keep it’s slim design and Samsung going for a larger display in the Galaxy Note model). There’s advantages to small and slim and benefits in having a larger screen. But you can’t go smaller than the iPhone and type on the screen or larger than the Galaxy and fit it in your pocket. The only way to resolve display size will be to put it closer to the eye, to make it essentially transparent so that you see the world through your phone’s screen but can shift focus to a proportionally large size screen. Google Glass is a little different approach in that you actually have to look a little to the left and up to see the screen.

One More Smart Phone To Go

Either way, it seems very plausible that we’ll be wearing our phones in the near future (before we reach the point where they are embedded under our skin). Looking at my new iPhone5, I figure I’ll probably buy one more Smart phone to replace it in a year and a half (perhaps right about the time Google Glass hits the stores), and then when I replace that one, it will be a device that I wear on my face. Coincidentally, Business Insider ran a short piece that parallels my thinking:

Both gadget concepts (Google Glass and Microsoft’s glasses patent) are very interesting. 

Lots of people disagree with me, including other BI (Business Insider) writers, but I think something like Google Glass or whatever Microsoft is working on could end up replacing the smart phone as the dominant way people access the Internet and connect to each other.

First off: something has to. Disruption is inevitable.

Secondly: The trend is obvious.

Computers have been getting smaller and closer to our faces since their very beginning.

First they were in big rooms, then they sat on desktops, then they sat on our laps, and now they’re in our palms. Next they’ll be on our faces.

(Eventually they’ll be in our brains.)

By the way, you can bet that if Microsoft and Google are working on computerized glasses, so is Apple and Jony Ive.

And that’s pretty exciting.

Here’s a diagram from Microsoft’s patent for a set of augmented reality glasses:

Microsoft Patent Diagram for Augmented Reality Glasses

Image from Business Insider

 

Some Day, Will You Die If You Don’t Answer Your Phone?

Paradoxically, shrinking the Smart phone down to a wearable device and eventually an implant carries out the vision of Martin Cooper, the Motorola researcher who made the first mobile call in NYC back some 35 years ago. Here’s a piece on Cooper’s vision from an article in The Age in 2008:

Inventor Martin Cooper holds one of the first mobile phones in this undated handout photo.“Our dream was that someday nobody would talk on a wired telephone. Everybody would talk on a wireless phone,” the 79-year-old electronic engineer told Reuters.

Cooper said he was so enthused after his first mobile call that he liked to joke that phone numbers would become so important that “when you were born you would get a phone number and if you didn’t answer it you would die.”

“The idea is that the phone number becomes part of you,” said Cooper, who is also waiting for the day when he merely thinks about calling a particular person and the phone will automatically dial the number.

While the popularity of mobile phones has skyrocketed, with more than 3 billion people owning cell phones now compared with only 300,000 in 1984, Cooper said in telephone interviews from California and New York that he sees much more room for wireless in industries ranging from health care to power.

“Thirty-five years later we’ve finally got the idea that people want to be free to communicate while they’re moving around but unfortunately we’ve just barely mastered that for voice,” he said.

In about 15 to 20 years, he expects people to have embedded wireless devices in their bodies to help diagnose and cure illness. “Just think of what a world it would be if we could measure the characteristics of your body when you get sick and transmit those directly to a doctor or a computer,” he said. “You could get diagnosed and cured instantly and wirelessly.”

Cooper dreamed big . . . and his dream is coming true. Give it another five years. And in the meantime, think about the possibilities (and the social-cultural issues) when our phones are first worn, and eventually, embedded under our skin.

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Thanksgiving and Now Black Friday

Customers wait in line for doorbuster deals at the Kmart on Addison Street in Chicago on Thanksgiving Thursday, Nov. 22, 2012.

Customers wait in line for doorbuster deals at the Kmart on Addison Street in Chicago which opened at 6:00 am on Thanksgiving Thursday, Nov. 22, 2012.

Thanksgiving is over and now Black Friday is here – an American social phenomenon I’ve never quite understood. I get waiting in line for a good deal (though it would have to be a really good deal) yet this seems much more about the mass psychology of the good deal rather than any real bargains. The numbers are fairly staggering: in 2011, an estimated 226 million people spent an average of $398 dollars each.

But did they get a deal?

A study in an October Wall Street Journal article revealed Black Friday shoppers often pay more than they would have if they waited until closer to Christmas or even bought what they wanted three or four weeks prior to Thanksgiving. Yes, there are many cases where there’s an increase in prices in the weeks leading up to the infamous Friday ordeal.

After crunching two to six years’ worth of pricing data for a number of typical holiday gifts, The Wall Street Journal has turned up the best times to go deal hunting — and they almost never involve standing in the freezing cold all night.

It turns out that gifts from Barbie dolls to watches to blenders are often priced below Black Friday levels at various times throughout the year, even during the holiday season, and their prices follow different trajectories as the remaining shopping days tick down.

Watches and jewelry, typical last-minute quarry for well-heeled shoppers, get more expensive as the season progresses, according to Decide Inc., the consumer-price research firm that gathered and analyzed the data for this article. Blenders, which might sit around for months if they aren’t bought in the holiday window, get much cheaper at the end.

The results reveal a lot about how retailers plot pricing strategy ahead of the year-end shopping frenzy that can account for a fifth or more of their sales. They also highlight how the industry has managed to use more sophisticated technology to turn Black Friday into a marketing bonanza by carefully selecting items for deep discounts while continuing to price broader merchandise at levels that won’t kill profits. 

So a few deep discounts can lead to a “marketing bonanza” as prices generally do not fall that much. Quite possibly the scarcity aspect factors into this – that limited quantities create the illusion of value greater than the actual discount.

Decide Inc., the consumer-price research firm, crunched the numbers for the Journal and came up with this chart of daily prices of seven popular products ranging from toys to electronics. Suffice it to say, there were multiple times during the year when prices were cheaper, especially if you’re shopping online:

Chart of Product Prices of Seven Popular Items Throughout 2011

Chart of Product Prices of Seven Popular Items Throughout 2011

So my plans for Friday? Go for a walk, see some art, and spend a little time in a cafe writing. And avoid the stress and the chaos that will be particularly acute in Manhattan. Hope you had a Happy Thanksgiving.

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Time-Lapse Video of Planes Landing at London Heathrow

A very cool short time-lapse video of airplanes lining up for a landing at London’s Heathrow airport. Speeded up 17x, the jumbo jets appear as small toys buffeted by the wind. There’s enough time-lapse videos out there, but this one is nicely done with a matching soundtrack. They look like puppets on strings.

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New York Blackout – an Eerie Beauty After Hurricane Sandy

Christophe Jarcot photograph of New York City during the Blackout Created by Hurricane Sandy

Christophe Jarcot photograph of New York City during the Blackout from Hurricane Sandy

There was a haunting beauty to New York during the loss of power from Hurricane Sandy, a way of seeing the City in a different light. Yes, it was frustrating and by the end of the week, I felt like I would lose my mind if not for the realization that there were so many people in much, much more dire circumstances than I ever experienced. I didn’t have the presence of mind to take that many photos during the week nor could I have taken any as beautiful as the ones by Christophe Jarcot.

Jarcot was first working in the film industry, but returned to photography, his true passion. He started off photographing rain and his work is fascinating. But I find these images of New York especially compelling. The full set is available on his website at Christophe Jarcot and there is information about his work at Artemiss:

“I had an order for a travel book about Paris, and sun was a pre-requisite for all the photos! But the weather was desperately rotten, and that is how I had the idea of starting the Paris in the rain series. It was a sort of contradiction…”

After realizing “Paris Under the Rain”, Christophe was looking for a very different city to shoot, but also very urban. Hong Kong quickly become his number one choice because of its raining season and its crazy urban life. New York, London and many others followed quickly after ! He is fascinated by the confrontation between two massive forces: weather and towns. 

This is by no means to minimize the horrible conditions that people endure every night both in NYC and in New Jersey as we now move through the second week after Hurricane Sandy. Even worse that we now have a covering of snow on the ground.

I have power, heat and Internet again so I am very fortunate. But we still have a flooded building where we used to have a campus and many of our students still lack power. Outside my office door are piles of clothes, food and supplies collected and on their way to the Rockaways tomorrow. Across the street, the endless hum of generators as most of the neighborhood around the college still lacks electricity.

The City and surrounding area are still reeling from the devastating blow of a freakish storm.

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The Political Pundits Who Blew It

punditsElection night is not quite over, but the networks have called it for Obama. Politico has a quick view of the many pundits who were off – some very, very off – base in their predictions. No doubt there will be much more analysis of who was right and who was wrong in the coming weeks but in the heat of the final night of a long election year (really more than 18 months), it’s a fun read.

Here’s some of the quotes from those who were most off-base:

Newt Gingrich:

“I believe the minimum result will be 53-47 Romney, over 300 electoral votes.” – Oct. 25, on Fox News.

Karl Rove:

Romney 285, Obama 253. “If crowds at his recent stops in these states [NV, WI and PA] are any indication of his supporters’ enthusiasm, Mr. Romney will likely be able to claim victory in these states as well.” — Nov. 5, on his website.

Fox News contributor Dick Morris:

Romney 325, Obama 213. “It will be the biggest surprise in recent American political history. It will rekindle the whole question as to why the media played this race as a nail biter where in fact I think Romney’s going to win by quite a bit.” — Nov. 4, on Fox News. 

Conservative columnist George Will:

Romney 321, Obama 217. “The wild card in what I’ve projected is I’m projecting Minnesota to go for Romney.” — Nov. 4, on ABC’s “This Week.”

UnskewedPolls’ Dean Chambers:

Romney 311, Obama 227. “Despite the pattern of skewed polls, most of them commissioned by the mainstream media, the overall electoral landscape is looking more and more favorable for Romney.” — Nov. 1, on examiner.com.

The Washington Examiner’s Michael Barone:

“Bottom line: Romney 315, Obama 223. That sounds high for Romney. But he could drop Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and still win the election. Fundamentals.” — Nov. 2, writing in The Washington Examiner.

CNBC’s Larry Kudlow:

”I am now predicting a 330 vote electoral vote landslide. Yes, that’s right — 330 electoral votes.” — Oct. 25, on CNBC.

Rush Limbaugh:

“All of my thinking says Romney big. All of my feeling is where my concern is. But my thoughts, my intellectual analysis of this — factoring everything I see plus the polling data — it’s not even close. Three hundred-plus electoral votes for Romney.” — Nov. 5, on his radio show.

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Election Guide – Decision Day at Last

Twitter Political Index siteThere are a number of different ways to follow the election tonight through an online election guide if you dread listening to the TV pundits or would rather just have something to balance their unsubstantiated claims. First, here’s a list of poll closing hours from First Read; early results from these states will reveal how the election is going. I’ve highlighted the swing states in red:

How to watch tonight: With several battleground states having poll-closing times at 8:00 pm ET or earlier (Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio, Florida, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania), we’re going to know a lot about how the race is breaking fairly early in the evening. How long does it take to call North Carolina (a state Romney probably wants to put away early) and Pennsylvania (ditto Obama)? Will Florida and Virginia take hours to call? (Remember, no state better matched the 2008 popular than Virginia did four years ago.) Here are all the final poll closing times in ET (NBC News will not call a race until all polls have closed in that state):

7:00 pm: GA, IN, KY, SC, VT, VA
7:30 pm: NC, OH, WV
8:00 pm: AL, CT, DE, DC, FL, IL, ME, MD, MA, MS, MO, NH, NJ, OK, PA, RI, TN
8:30 pm: AR
9:00 pm: AZ, CO, KS, LA, MI, MN, NE, NM, NY, ND, SD, TX, WI, WY
10:00 pm: IA, MT, NV, UT
11:00 pm: CA, HI, ID, OR, WA
1:00 am: AK

And here’s three sites I’ll be watching tonight:

  • The Twitter Political Index will be interesting given the out-sized role that social media is playing in the 2012 election. Not really a results site, but a snapshot of what’s going on in terms of the election in the Twitter stream.
  • Politico has a good map and site that provides results from a more or less neutral perspective. Just good solid data on a nicely designed map.
  • FiveThirtyEight: Nate Silver’s blog at the New York Times. I still like Silver the best as he is the only one that seems to do probability analysis and lay his cards on the table.

Indeed, Silver has become the big story over the past week as a number of political consultants have taken him to task for doing only a “cold” mathematical calculus. Silver did exceptionally well in the 2008 and 2010 elections and it remains to be seen if he continues the same level of accuracy. Maybe there is something of a “gut instinct” to polling; but there’s also something to mathematics that is hard to deny. With Silver now projecting Obama having a more than 90% chance of winning re-election, you’ll get to see him solidify his reputation or make a fool of himself. I think Silver will be proven right, but we’ll see.

But of course, you can always turn to the pundits if you need your (political) ego stroked.

 

 

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Hurricane Sandy Aftermath

Hudson River Flooding - Water Coming into the West VIllage

Hurricane Sandy: Hudson River Flooding – Water Pouring into the West Village

I’m finally resurfacing after dealing with Hurricane Sandy over the past week. My apartment is okay but it was a wild ride – water coming up the streets of the West Village, four days with no power, heat or Internet access. On the other hand, these are hardly serious issues compared to what people on Staten Island, parts of Brooklyn and the New Jersey Shore are going through. People have been generous in helping those deeply affected by the storm but so much more help is needed.

Five observations on Hurricane Sandy and it’s aftermath:

  • Of all the blackouts I’ve been through, this was the most well-handled. Traffic cops on nearly every corner, police everywhere; Lower Manhattan seemed to function as best it could under the circumstances.
  • Clearly our subway system is not designed to handle floods and heavy rains. Not sure what can be done, but there must be ways to mitigate some of the damage from storms. Densely populated areas like NYC need reliable public transportation (many of us are still having to walk downtown).
  • Some New Yorkers are entirely oblivious to nature. I was struck by the number of people I saw on late Tuesday and Wednesday trying to go to their gym. If you don’t have power, do you really think your neighborhood health club will be open? This is topped only by the people that left their cars in underground garages one block from the river when there was a predicted 8-11 foot storm surge (it was actually 13.88 feet). Just where did they think all that water was going when it got to the Hudson?
  • Internet access is as important as power these days. No doubt there will be hearings on Con Edison and the loss of power in NYC and the surrounding areas. But there will be no hearings on how Verizon and AT&T handled the storm. They didn’t do well at all.
  • A note to future restaurant designers and owners: please put a power outlet near every table. However much you’re a food service establishment, there may come a day when you’re also – literally – a refuge from the storm. And providing people with electrical power lets them stay connected with friends, relatives and the news. A restaurant is not just about food, but ambiance and setting. It may also be a place to maintain connections – in a digital world, you may not just be talking to the person sitting across the table from you.

Photos and more to follow . . .

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Superman Becomes a Blogger!

Clark Kent is leaving The Daily Planet to become a blogger

Yes, print media is officially dead for Superman who is leaving The Daily Planet to become a blogger.

His reasons? Clark Kent has become something of a media critic and no longer wants to work for a newspaper that is pushing entertainment over news.

From Newsarama.com:

. . . this week’s new issue, and the first regular issue by writer Scott Lobdell and artist Ken Rocafort. Superman’s alter ego has been a reporter at the Daily Planet since the 1940s, and his central supporting cast has included employees Perry White, Lois Lane, and Jimmy Olsen for as long.

I wasn’t going to test the waters. I was just going to do a cannonball in the Super-verse,” said Lobdell to USA Today of the big move. The writer is having Kent focus more on his life as Superman, saying that the most powerful man on Earth would have a problem sitting “behind a desk and” taking “instruction from a larger conglomerate with concerns that aren’t really his own.”

This isn’t just a kid having a tantrum though, as Clark will take a stand against the media’s move towards being more entertainment and less news. He even makes a comment about “Truth, Justice, and the American Way” being the goal that media, and people in general, should strive towards.

Entertainment reporter and longtime Daily Planet mainstay Cat Grant will be quitting alongside Clark, completing his Jerry Maguire moment, and joining up with him to create “the next Huffington Post or the next Drudge Report,” said Lobdell.

So if you’re a blogger and don’t need to go to the office everyday as a superhero in disguise, what becomes of the Clark Kent character? For the moment, the newspaper man will still be around since he – like all journalists making this move – will have to deal with the ramifications of leaving the paper and working online. Whether or not he still appears in the future probably depends on whether or not the superhero has to make public appearances as a blogger. He could always be like the late Andrew Breitbart and take over a press conference or two, or like Andrew Sullivan and do interviews with other media outlets.

If this doesn’t signal the death knell for traditional news media, I don’t know what does.  Perhaps the bankruptcy of The Daily Planet? Having it sold for a dollar?

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Lifelogging: Memoto Blows Away Kickstarter Goal

MemotoTake a look at Memoto. A long look as this may just be a game-changer.

Lifelogging has been around for some time – at least two decades if you look at the work Steve Mann with his “wearable computer” and “reality mediator” inventions. I remember watching Mann walk through the streets of Florence, Italy in the early 90′s and thinking this is just too cumbersome to be practical. But you knew the technology would shrink and with the advent of Smart phones and the pending Google Project Glass, we’ve gone from chest-mounted cameras and batteries to the latest innovation that may put lifelogging firmly on the map – Memoto’s lifelogging camera.

Memoto is a Swedish company and their new product is an incredibly small and beautiful camera (think Apple here) that you wear around your neck or clip on your shirt or blouse. The device is postage-stamp size and drop-dead simple:

The Memoto device measures 36x36x9mm and contains a five-megapixel camera, a GPS unit, an accelerometer and 8GB of storage – enough for two days’ worth of photos, seeing as the device takes a photo every 30 seconds. It will cost $279, or nothing for early backers who give $199 or more.

The user will need to hook the device up to their computer every couple of days, both to upload the photos and recharge the battery. The photos will go onto Memoto’s servers and be made accessible for time-lapse-style playback through Smartphone apps. (Gigaom)

They launched the project on Kickstarter today and reached their $50,000 goal in five hours. At this point, they’re over $131,000 with 37 days to go. And they’ve stretched the goal to $150,000 and will allow backers to crowdsource the color of one of the models. $199 now gets you one when it comes out at a serious discount to the retail cost.

On one level, this kind of stuff might freak you out; but on the other hand, it is deeply fascinating. Every moment of one’s life can be recorded, and paradoxically, your own life will be embedded as the recorded moments in the lives of others. The very fact that you wear the device, that it’s designed to face outward, to record without a conscious decision makes it entirely different than the pocket camera (or the now ubiquitous ones in our Smart phones). In truth, this is much more than a miniature camera and an App.

It’s a game-changer.

And yes, I put my money in so I’m a backer. Here’s the nicely done video from Memoto on the device and the possibilities of lifelogging:

And here’s an overview of Steve Mann’s cameras over the years. Looking at Mann’s devices, you can see how far we’ve come in the past few decades. But this is only the beginning. I have no idea what lies at the end of this road from a social or cultural perspective but Memoto is opening the door to an entirely new way of seeing and relating to your own life and the lives of those around you. Fascinating.

Steve Mann - wearable computers over three decades

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Visualizing Facebook: A Photograph goes Viral

A visualization of Facebook activity and how a photograph goes viral. The short video below reproduces the acts of hundreds of thousands of individuals on Facebook as they share a photograph, Famous Failures, first posted on Star Trek actor George Takei’s Page.

Each visualization is made up of a series of branches starting from a single person. As the branch grows, re-shares split off on their own arcs, sometimes spawning a new generation of re-shares, sometimes exploding in a short-lived burst of activity. The two different colors show gender, and each successive generation becomes more and more white as time goes by.

The data is taken from a three-month period from July to September 2012 and utilized  Facebook news feeds. Our activity appears almost fractal in the video, or perhaps we are collectively like a budding flower in what we do.

You can see two other videos on the Facebook Stories site; all three were done by Stamen, an art and design studio based in San Francisco. If you are interested in the details of how the project was completed over a two-week period, Stamen has an account on their blog at Facebook: Evolution of the Flowers that is worth reading.

Fascinating.

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Steal this Vlog: A Remix Manifesto on Copyright

Great video on copyright law, remix and free culture. Disney was one of the great mashup artists of his time and ahead of many of his contemporaries in the use of technology to remix culture. But through corporate lobbying, the concept of copyright went from supporting creativity to a situation where a new generation of digitally literate kids are in regular violation of the law. This isn’t about stealing music and down downloading movies illegally; it is about fair-use and that the law needs to adapt to the new landscape of the digital revolution.

I’m not that hopeful in the short term, but perhaps down the road, Lawrence Lessig may be the inspiration for kids to effect change. After all, it’s the world they are inheriting and right now it’s a contradictory mess between the forces of creativity and innovation on the one side and legal codes that were written for a wholly different era.

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Debate Nearly Leads to Fistfight

When politicians nearly come to a fistfight at a debate (forget Obama and Romney circling each other last night – that wasn’t even close), you know the end result will be a new political ad and this one is very effective. The episode was a forum for a very bitter race between two redistricted democrats in a congressional race in California, featuring Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) and Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA). You can find more details at the LA Times if you’re interested (and as you might expect, the candidates do not actually disagree that much).

You can almost get into each others face at a debate, but you cross a line when your arm goes around your opponent’s shoulder or neck. What next? Actual slug fests for those running for office? More than a few have noted that the American psyche has its coarse edges though other countries have had entire Parliaments descend into fistfights. Perhaps we should cherish our modicum of restraint before it completely disappears.

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