The Weekly – 7.27.12
This week we look at (more) solar news, the best camping gadget I’ve ever seen, why you should pay attention to the Security Training videos and use a Kensington lock in your hotel room, and computers mimicking real life. And I’m not talking about Facebook.
It’s like Transparent Aluminum1 – But Real
First up – imagine windows that double as solar panels. Even in cruddy Seattle we could generate significant amounts of power with transparent solar spread across the Bing tower – even at its paltry current 4% efficiency rate. Next steps are for the team to increase the efficiency of the panels to get them even somewhat near photovoltaic levels. And then to come put them on my house.
Damned Lies and Statistics
I love mobile data and the inherent complexity in managing little data packets dancing around buildings and hillsides as you tool down the highway at 70mph reading your newsfeed. Indeed data is problematic as there is only a certain amount of spectrum– you don’t get to make any more space in the radio waves. Which is why, when 3G auctions were going on a decade ago, telcos bid tens of billions of dollars to acquire the spectrum. They knew they needed it for the upcoming data demand that devices were going to use. Now, as devices get better screens and 4G LTE networks, the carriers are feeling the crunch. New technical methods like Dynamic Spectrum Access shows potential to offload some of the flow to other underutilized frequencies but in the interim, we get to play in the spectrum we’ve got. Which is why carriers are imposing data caps and upping your rates. And when they do this, they always say something like “no worries- 90% of our customers won’t notice any difference in their bill”. And that would be fine except for one little problem. It’s not true.
The 1% Solution
I kid, I kid. I love TaskRabbit – it’s like a more realistic Kozmo or mylackey.com (holla 90s startups!). And they have raised a quite substantial amount of funding to bring an on-demand labor force to personal and corporate tasks – big and small. If you subscribe to Tim Ferris’ 4-hour workweek (or at least to pretend to have read it), you know he says to outsource anything where the personal opportunity cost exceeds what it will cost you to pay someone else to do it. TaskRabbit handles that part beautifully altho be careful with the math. It’s very easy to start thinking your ‘personal opportunity cost’ for getting that fourth coffee is … you know … high.
RIP Sally Ride
I was deeply saddened by Specialist Doctor Ride’s death this week. I had the pleasure of meeting her a few years ago and was struck by her humility. And that humility got me thinking about the remarkable people we send into space. I can remember when the Columbia crew perished over Texas and after reading each of their bios I thought to myself – these are the best of our kind and we’re sending them up on a fuel tank bolted to a teeny thin-shelled vehicle sourced out to the lowest bidder. They should be sending up hacks like me.
On a lighter note, the world has just been handed the single greatest piece of camping gear since the camping toilet. I should stipulate that I do not camp. Unless you count as camping the Holiday Inn Express I stay in when I go to Mountain View. But were I to decide to spend more time outdoors than moving from my PT Cruiser rental to the lobby of the HIXPress, I would totally buy this. A way to start campfires easily AND charge my Windows Phone. It’s really quite an epic little piece of machinery.
Speaking of Hotels…
Ah, the BlackHat conference. Full of goodies for reformed hackers and wannabe script kiddies. This year my favorite hack was one that will get me into my hotel room when I’ve lost my seventh key. Yes folks, about 4 million hotel rooms are open to you by simply building a little piece of kit from your local Radio Shack. Didn’t get that upgrade at check-in? Well now you did. Just try not to pick my suite.
The Singularity is Nigh
Scientists have managed to make the first complete computer model of a living organism. You can imagine the implications – ranging from virtual drug testing all the way up to creating artificial life. I, for one, am excited to model myself in silicon. They just need to scale it up from the 525 genes they modeled to our 35000 genes then I can make my computer clone. And load it into my GPS. So I can give myself directions.
Last, Poor Larry
First he can’t speak for 4 weeks (where can I get that drug? There are many people in my life to whom I could apply that compound). Then, it’s revealed that cost-per-click rates are crashing. And since Google derives 96% of their revenue from these pesky little ads, that is…not good. The Atlantic summarizes it best:
As three makes a trend, a third quarter in a row of cost-per-click decline for Google advertising makes this an unsettling norm not only for the search company, but also for Internet advertising efforts elsewhere. During yesterday’s earning call, Google reported a 16 percent decline in CPC, meaning the value of each advertisement clicked has gone down. That follows a 12 percent drop last quarter and 8 percent the quarter before that. Even at the company that managed to make money off of Internet advertising, those online ads are continually losing value.
Until next week!
1 A gold star for the first person who can tell me the scifi movie where they used transparent aluminum.
The Weekly – 7.19.12
This week we look – again – at solar power, see the inverse of that is put to use keeping my Bud Light Lime cold, see a pivot that doesn’t suck, and look at potentially the worst product ever developed.
Solar Power – with a twist
I am in love with this project. They have created geothermal generation to handle the baseload power needs required to enable people to watch Keeping Up with the Kardashians in the wee hours of the night while using solar to handle the daytime peak loads generated by our air conditioners running at full blast. These hybrid systems overcome the challenge of solar-only power and one can imagine the great potential for other baseload generation hybrids such as wave and gravity fed hydro. This is a great article and good primer on solar and geothermal power in general if you’re interested.
Screw Metal Detectors at Airports – We’re About to be Lasered
Oh yes. Imagine a new system which can figure out if you’re carrying anything verboten even as you approach the security checkpoint at SeaTac. Sure, there will be a ton of people who claim “this is a violation of privacy” to which I will respond “take Amtrak.” Anything to get me through security faster is golden for me. From the article: “The machine is ten million times faster—and one million times more sensitive – than any currently available system.” Booyeah.
Now I Can Enjoy my Bud Light Lime Anywhere
It’s not just Stephen Colbert who loves the BL^2. And now thanks to science and a relentless pursuit of making things cold, a new self-chilling can is out that can reduce temps by 30 degrees. Never again will I have skunky beer.
Trying to Break into a System? Try these passwords.
Terrifying. That is all I can say. People, please, please. As a former security guy I know people use weak passwords quite often but this is ridiculous. At least now you know what to try – kind of RSTNL and E on Wheel of Fortune.
Pivots aren’t all Lame
One of my favorite web apps in recent memory was Greplin that allowed you to search all your online services from a single interface. It didn’t include Hotmail or Exchange so I could never really get into it, but the notion of being able to search and catalog your entire digital identity was beyond appealing and useful for those in the G ecosystem. Well Greplin has now become Cue and aims to become a very personal assistant. Cue tries to solve the problem of information overload with its founders saying, “The average person receives 63,000 words a day through e-mail, social networks, and other accounts.” Trying to keep up with that deluge is proving to be nearly impossible for the connected person. So Cue does it for you – parsing through all your incoming text and making sense of what’s important. Get an email about a flight you’re taking? Cue can automatically remind you of the details and associated communications you’ve had about it. It’s really a stunning piece of tech.
Google Becoming Mad Cow Disease
Ok, maybe that isn’t quite an accurate recap of the headline, but you get the idea. The article is about “Google becoming more than just a search engine, which should both excite and scare people. WIthin the next three to five years Google will become a digital assistant, that could ideally diagnose your child’s illness early based on where she’s been, how alert she is, and her skin’s temperature, then drive your car to her school to bring her home while you’re at work. Shankland states that as appealing as tomorrow’s Google sounds, it comes at the cost of Google needing to know everything that makes him who he is, and that Google and it’s users need to decide if it’s time to shift from ad-supported free services to paid services.”
Sony Creates the Worst Product Ever
Oh how this product sounded so good on paper. A Dick Tracy watch that I would actually wear (save for the required Android integration). A beautiful OLED display, connectivity to my social networks, easy to see email and other notifications, a host of applications on my wrist – what is not to like about this miniature marvel? It’s like what SPOT should have been. Except it isn’t. Apparently it’s the worst thing ever made. Pity. Reminds me of this very NSFW Onion story on Sony a few years ago…
New Storage Tech Means Terabytes on a Chip
Ah germanium telluride, how I love thee. This article might set the record for dorkiness but the net is there is a new technology being developed to allow you to store terabytes – literally – on a thumbnail size chip.
Dark Knight Rises
You know where I will be this weekend – the Boeing IMAX seeing the Dark Knight Rises. When Chris Nolan did the second film he wanted to shoot much of it in IMAX. A few problems – each reel of IMAX film lasts only 3 minutes and is enormous. The cameras are twice as heavy as normal cameras meaning all the equipment used to dolly and film chase scenes had to be custom fabbed. And the format is unforgiving of errors with each frame of film being as large as your hand. So he only shot a few scenes of the Dark Knight using the format. So what does he do with this film? Films almost half of it in IMAX. That, my friends, is chutzpah.
Til next week!
The Weekly 7.13.12
This week we look at a twist on frat-boy advertising, the McRib, why Canada should be annexed to the US, and self-learning computers that will eventually enslave us. Luckily machines like me, so if you’re my friend, you’ll be fine when the robot overlords come to take the luddites away.
Fear No Susan Glen
In the world of advertising, I like this pivot by the Axe guys (famous for their … questionable ads in the past). It’s a little 60 second story of unrequited love spoken from the vantage point of a much older and presumably wiser Jack Bauer. Worth a watch to see how something synonymous with frat boys can execute a very nice pivot with a single ad.
Roger McNamee Calls Everyone in FB IPO Criminals
Really good article where Roger (who is head of Elevation Partners, Bono’s venture fund among others) calls out JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley’s behaviors leading up to and during the IPO event. No one escapes unscathed – from automated high frequency traders to the underwriters who artificially boosted demand, he does the best job I’ve seen explaining just how questionable tech IPOs are for the general public and how they seem to be simply vehicles for founders and early investors to cash out rather than their intended purpose (‘sup Groupon!).
Fake Meat and a Japanese McRib
Gizmodo did a nice expose on why it’s hard to create really great fake meat. As someone with a number of vegetarians in his life, I’m always looking for something we can all eat together while I’m getting my carnivore fix. Sounds like I’ll be waiting for a while.
On a related topic, a Japanese McDonalds knockoff is reintroducing the Greatest Sandwich of All Time to the land of the rising sun. McRib – welcome back.
UN Declares the Internet as a Human Right
I think those of us in Canada for the WPC conference this week can relate to this. I felt naked, jittery, and more than a little irritable when I can’t get my internet. Hearing my pleas for cheap roaming, I assume the UN took up my charge and laid down the law saying internet access is a universal human right. Take that Rogers Telecom.
Square is the new Black for Small Businesses
I spent a good part of last week in small town Michigan and was floored by the number of local merchants using Square to handle payments. Most had iPads on the counter that served as their register and would simply hand it to you to complete the transaction. I really wonder, with Square’s flat 2.75% fee and ease of use, how much Verifone and others are feeling the pinch. Apparently they are growing insanely well , hitting 2 million users and $6BB in annual charges. Pretty impressive for a two year old company with a cheap plastic dongle and an app as their main product.
A Much Better Top Trends List of 2012
The ever smart Richard MacManus lists his companies and technologies that will make up the top trends for 2012. The main categories he talks about are the Visual Web, the Consumer Cloud, social video apps, and video on tablets. I’m not sure I buy social video apps (they remind me of social reader apps which cratered after a massive spike earlier in the year), but the rest are very good.
A WarGame movie reference will always make The Weekly
Remember Watson? Well, this is nothing like this really but has some similarities in that Dr Kaiser has built a system that can watch 2 minutes of humans playing a board game and then deduce the rules, play the humans, and beat us at our own game. The machine learning shown here is highly impressive – even more so that it was built on a single-core processor with 4GB of RAM.
Lions, Tigers, Intelligent Agents, Oh My!
Last, a great infographic that shows the other intelligent agents competing for mindshare against the Siri juggernaut. It’s nice to see innovation in the space even if the vast majority have very little usage. It does go to validate our vision of helping people get things done with Bing.
Enjoy the weekend and hopefully now you have some fodder for your weekend cocktail parties (do people still have these?)
This week we look the top tech trends for the next decade, a massive fail that I’m blaming on Chromebooks, an oblique reference to the 90s movie “Sneakers” (FTW!), and what happens when robots start walking more like us and then use the power of social networks to decide who is important enough to warrant giving a TEDx talk.
Top 10 Tech Trends for the Next Decade
Some of these are ‘duh’, others are a little fun to read (like the rise of 3D printing which will only get better when we figure out nanotechnology that doesn’t threaten to run amok and eat the earth). This section on the internet data explosion is fun, “Forget megabytes and gigabytes. Bandwidth will multiply three million times through the next ten years, surpassing terabytes, petabytes and exabytes to reach zettabytes. Internet data will be high definition video living in a real-time cloud.”
Home Automation for the Rest of Us
I admit when remodeling my house I went a little crazy on home automation, complete with IP accessible lightswitches that I never bothered to do anything with save brag about to guests (“each switch has its own IP address!”) Belkin has come out with some new home automation tech that I’m really in love with.
There’s Fail, and then there is #EPICFAIL
Many of you saw this but in case you missed it, the entire San Diego fireworks display – scheduled to last 18 minutes – instead lasted 29 seconds. YouTube of it here. Rumor has it the show was controlled by a Google Chromebook that lost its WiFi connection and went rogue. Ok, maybe I made that last part up. But maybe I didn’t. And maybe you should all RT that.
Quantum Computing Draws Nigh; Time to Start Freaking out about Crypto!
Ok, it’s not that close but for things involving cryptography (you know, like any secure webpage, all your banking information, your NikeRun scores that you don’t post to FB), it’s getting hot in here. Harvard researchers have managed to create and trap quantum information for 2 seconds at room temperature (that’s six orders of magnitude longer than anything else tried). And they did it using diamonds which truly validates the claim that diamonds are a hacker’s best friend. It’s a small step – a building block really – but an important one to creating a full fledged quantum computer that will render our puny silicon brains (even our 8-way cores) to the dustbin of Betamax.
How many of you are tired about the stilted gait of robots these days? ASIMO may be badass, but he still walks like he’s had too many dark and stormys on Sohn’s boat. Meet the newest biped that mimics our ‘controlled falling’ method of walking.
A New Brand for MS?
I love it when a fan of ours takes it upon himself to redesign our entire brand over the course of 72 hours. I personally love the tagline he’s come up with and the simplicity of the logo and its various applications is really an elegant homage to our history and culture.
A New Way to Feel Self-Important (or self-loathing, depending on your score)
First there was KLOUT, now there is Cloze. Think of Cloze as a way to score everyone else you know and then make sure you are communicating with some regularity with those who are most ‘important’. Creepy? Yes. But you know you want something like this. I do love the ability to take your Cloze data with you even when you leave a job. This is a great boost to data portability inits so many companies are working towards.
Speaking of Self-Important…
I gave a TEDx talk recently about the power of serendipity. They recently edited and posted it, so here it is for your viewing pleasure (?). If nothing else, you can see how many geek jokes I can cram into 18 minutes.
Enjoy the weekend.
The Weekly – 6.28.12
This week we look at wireless networks, Google’s announcements that intrigued me, NASA freaking out, our little shindig in NYC to highlight technology that is more human-centric, and a breakthrough in medical tech to allow people to breathe without breathing. Yes, that is correct.
People who know me know I am obsessed with wireless data transmission. In fact, I led the charge to blanket cities with WiFi five years ago (hello Portland, OR!). It was an epic fail, btw. That being said, there are a few problems with wireless that must be overcome. First, there is only so much spectrum and the laws of physics change for no one – meaning if everyone is video Skyping on their Apollo phone in a neighborhood, there is going to be some major network congestion. Unless…these guys are right. This is a HUGE deal.
Second, there is actually more spectrum available for use since the transition to digital television. All this beautiful 700Mhz “White space” has been opened up. Why is it good? The lower the frequency, the farther the signal can reach (a 10km radius versus a 300ft radius for WiFi) and through more types of building materials. WiFi operates at 2400Mhz, while white space operates at a quarter of that. After literally 5 years of wrangling with the FCC, Super WiFi (needs a brand guy) is launching this year on a few college campuses and eventually spreading to rural America. But importantly, it’s could be a boon for devices as our cellular networks become increasingly crowded with Google Hangouts in Google Glass…
Third, and this isn’t strictly wireless, but the amount of data we’re pushing thru the tubes is just staggering. Cisco reports that by 2015, “we’ll be hitting 966 exabytes (nearly one zettabyte) for the full year. That will be the equivalent of all movies ever made crossing IP networks every four minutes.” A ZB, just for giggles, is equivalent to a great wall of China made out of 32GB Microsoft Surface tablets. ARM or x86 – doesn’t matter
Jump cuts, furrowed brows, cheesy animations – no, I’m not talking CSI, I’m talking about the “Seven Minutes of Terror” video NASA put out describing the absolutely awesome landing sequence for the upcoming Mars rover. You must watch, if only to see NASA scientists doing their best Gary Sinise impression.
We had an idea back when we were contemplating how to launch Metallica. One of the ideas kept on growing was to position Bing (at least with our little influential audience) as the ‘more human’ of the engines. That led to us creating a partnership where I got to talk to my geek friends and ask them about what technology they liked that was conforming to people rather than the increasing trend of humans having to adapt to technology. After a great online run with videos from preeminent thinkers we also had held a competition for the world to tell us about innovations that helped humanize technology. The results from our celeb judges are on the website but the culmination of the event happens this weekend in NYC at the http://www.forhumankind.org/ expo and science fair. All the coolest tech, all in one place. Reporters and bloggers are already lining up to cover this bad boy. More next week…
Ok, I usually take to this page to give G some jabs but this week they’ve had a couple of breakout launches. First, Google Now (GO BRANDING TEAM!) is really a great tech demo that actually solves a problem we’ve been showing in demos for I don’t know how long. Namely, your phone knows you have to be somewhere at 5pm. It knows you are not at that somewhere now. The question it asks? What is the best way to get there and how long will it take – and then proactively tell you about it. Pretty badass.
Second, Google Glass (and prob the best product intro EVER). Yes, despite the fact that I shy away from buying competitors products, this is just to epic to ignore. I can’t even imagine all the fun I’ll have coding these up. I like to call them Terminator Glasses, because to geeks it makes sense and to my mom it freaks her out (about Google). A really beautiful piece of Wired-esque journalism on the history of wearable computing is here at the Verge.
Cooler (literally) Lightbulbs
My buddy at Babson made his first mint with IdeaPaint that turns any wall into a whiteboard. It is a great story of a crazy college kid having no idea what he was doing but had the gumption to get it done anyway. Now, he’s on to some new stealthy lightbulb tech. Who knows what he will come up with this time but I hope it involves two unrelated items being mashed together to make light.
Last, in MedTech
Some meds in Boston have figured out a way to build injectable oxygen particles that can be fed directly into the bloodstream when normal respiration is obstructed. If you have a heart beat, you have oxygen. Could potentially save millions of lives a year and was developed after a doctor lost a little girl due to lung hemorrhage and thought “huh, there’s got to be a better way”. And now there is.
And that is a beautiful end to The Weekly.
This week, more solar power goodness (sensing a trend here?), kids helping to cure cancer, how to discern fiction from fact (esp helpful given our upcoming US elections and generally listening to me talk when I’m just BSing), and much more from my “Read It Later” queue.
The Weekly – 6/21
Last week, India made it cheaper than diesel. This week, I see Germany created over half their country’s weekend load (22GW) from solar. Now the only thing we need to figure out is energy storage and there is some pioneering work I recently saw and talked with the pioneer at MIT (good old fashioned potential energy from our Physics 101 class) and from TED (batteries). Algae is my next passion.
Dougie Howser, MD
Not only can NPH host an epic Tony broadcast, he also has inspired countless smartypants to reach beyond their station (this demi-smartypants included). This week from the Howser File comes a 15-year old kid who has developed a carbon-nanotube/plain old paper based way to detect pancreatic cancer. I’m going to hire him to hang around me and tell me to work harder. Mr. Andraka’s sensor is 168 times faster, 26,667 times less expensive, and 400 times more sensitive than the state-of-the-art currently in use. It can spot the presence of the cancer-linked protein well before the cancer itself becomes invasive. This, in scientific terms, is baller.
Truth and Fiction
Sometimes I find it all too easy to…believe. You hear something, it sounds right, it matches your preconceived notions of the world, so you believe it and in many cases propagate it. What should we do? Lifehacker this week gives us a remedial course in how to sniff fact from fiction. They mention G all too much, but replace those with Bing and you get the idea.
People who know me know I LOVE the singularity and am in line to be one of the first to be uploaded into holographic memory crystals when the time comes. In the interim, last week’s always excellent “To The Point” has a great discussion on progress we’re making to augment our human capacity. Daniel Wilson, professor at CMU and author of two fun sci-fi books (Robapocolypse is a blast) talks about the upcoming ‘super-ability’ of humans. And for those who haven’t seen it, my all –time favorite TED talk featuring my personal hero Dean Kamen is always, always worth 20 minutes of your time. Seriously. Warning – you will tear up J
I’m occasionally accused of hyperbole, but in this case, Arthur C Clarke was right – great tech is indistinguishable from magic. The Israeli R&D team released on(x) last week to some great fanfare. Despite it only being on Android for now (cough, cough Shira) due to Android’s crappy open security model, it heralds a new way to think about search. Imagine your phone, loaded with sensors, being smart enough to text your wife when you leave the office because it detects you are moving about 30 miles and hour and leaving your office coordinates. Or telling you to pack a rain jacket when you wake up since the Bing weather forecast for the day says it’s going to rain. Bonus? You don’t even need to be technical to use it. Check out the future…now.
Til next week…
So there have been a number of requests (ok, maybe 5) to bring back Deep Plane Thoughts and while I am on planes as much as ever, for some reason the time I spend on planes is now consumed with, you know, real work and not random pontification – as fun as that can be. I personally blame Gogo internet for this but alas I nearly go into convulsions when I somehow get on a flight without WiFi, so I’m not sure who really is at fault here.
In any case here’s what this is going to turn into. Every week(ish), I’ll send out what I think is interesting, cool, remarkable, and/or disconcerting of all the stuff I read while pretending to pay attention in meetings. We’ll call this iteration of my ramblings “The Weekly.” Without further yammering….
The Weekly – 6/11
Love this. Solar power is now cheaper than diesel to generate power in India. First time ever.
Amazon and TV
Rumors abound about whether Amazon could ‘pull a Kindle’ with TV shows. In the same way they took ebooks from niche to fairly mainstream, lots of conjecture about them doing the same to TV shows. Obvious problems comparing books and TV with production costs, rights clearances, etc, but interesting nonetheless.
Higher Ed Interests Me:
Fun Fact: There is over $1Trillion accumulated in Student Loans – more than all credit card debt. Ouch.
The always fun Mark Cuban comparing higher ed to the housing bubble (altho this argument that government money is driving up the cost of college is also refuted other places on the ‘webs) http://blogmaverick.com/2012/05/13/the-coming-meltdown-in-college-education-why-the-economy-wont-get-better-any-time-soon/
NPR’s To The Point – a college recently reduced tuition by 10% by stopping the practice of marking up the sticker price and giving lots of grants. Biggest cost driver (UW has risen 65% over the past four years, far exceeding inflation save Zimbabwe’s) is labor, making up 2/3 of the costs. Explanation: harder and more expensive to hire college educated people as staff and faculty. Does anyone else see an spiraling loop here?
An absolutely must read study on “for-profit” education systems. Two years old and I’m told UoPhoenix has made changes to address, but interesting nonetheless.
Finally, I got to serve as a judge at LaunchEDU’s startup competition yesterday and loved a new startup that is using Kinect to advance the state-of-the-art in telepresence teaching. As the conversation around the value of higher ed continues to increase, methods like this (along with the many other Khan Academy-esque approaches) seem to have real merit. Check their product out at: www.gathereducation.com. Another great company I saw was http://learnstreet.com which has one of the best online schools for teaching basic coding skills to non-tech peeps.
ChromeBooks – Seriously. Enough.
My favorite review: http://reviews.cnet.com/laptops/samsung-chromebook-series-5/4505-3121_7-35308790.html. Ill summarize:
Let’s overprice a celeron(!) machine with 16GB of SSD, throw a browser with a bunch of kludgey hooks to the silicon so it can do things like ‘play media’ and tell you that being connected to the cloud to do everything is awesome. Except it’s not. Even. Close.
Go away, little turd. Away. For giggles, you can see my original review for the Chromebook here – which ranked #1 on Google for the first three days of the Chromebook’s original release for the terms “chromebook review”. Hee hee.
More next week – lots of hotels, planes, and lonely dinners with only my tablet to catch up on reading.