Data Is Not Killing Creativity, It's Just Changing How We Tell Stories


I keep seeing this topic push up about how data is affecting creativity. Some say we are losing our sense of narration and storytelling. It’s not this at all. We are just experiencing a shift that other civilizations have faced when the traditional means for storytelling transform to give a sense of the changing times facing society.

That does not mean a rejection of the narrative form. The ancient Greeks developed a rich oral tradition for telling stories. Out of that they created a common language, which formed the foundation for fables, legends and myths.

Now we see that data, shaped by software, creates a space to tell stories in new ways. Narrative methods to express our imagination will change as techniques emerge that allow us to use programming languages to carry on what we know for the next generations.

Om Malik says it’s this sense of data storytelling that will become so important. Today, he explains, data is used as a blunt instrument. The ones that use data more effectively well remind of us how we relate to each other.

Cloudera Co-Founder and Data Scientist Jeff Hammerbacher said on the Charlie Rose show earlier this month that it’s not that “numerical” imagination” is better than using “narrative” imagination. It’s just that now, for the first time in thousands of years, we need to think more about using data analytic methods for developing stories.

For example, Hammerbacher is working as an assistant professor at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, developing a storage and data analysis infrastructure. Like Malik, Hammberbacher said it’s how we find ways to pair data that will give us insights. For instance, finding ways to integrate genetic databases and electronic health records that tell a story that both physicians and patients understand.

Hammerbacher recounted a story to Rose about a lump that appeared on his chest. The doctor examined it and sent him to another doctor. Hammebacher asked the question: “Don’t you want to quantify what is in my body?” He followed by saying the amount of insight we get into a server at Facebook is greater than we have about our own bodies. The ones who can quantify our own human data and network it will give society new ways to explain who we are through dimensions we never imagined.

Hammerbacher and Malik have views from different spaces across the information spectrum. But they both point to a new reality that will require us to think much differently about how we imagine our world and the data that is now far visible than ever before.

By building “fairy circles,” termites engineer their own ecosystem

The Namib Desert is dotted with thousands of mysterious “fairy circles,” which are near-perfect circles of barren soil two to fifteen meters wide, rimmed by tall grass. They are unmistakable and stretch for miles, giving the landscape an ethereal and otherworldly feel. Many possible explanations have been proposed, including toxic substances in the soil, meteorites, termites, UFOs, and the ghosts of dead natives. But the circles are extremely remote—more than 110 miles from the nearest village—and have been difficult to study scientifically. Despite decades of research, the cause of these bizarre circles has remained elusive.

But now, after a six-year study and more than 40 trips to the Namib Desert, Dr. Norbert Juergens believes he has come to understand the biological underpinnings of this strange phenomenon. According to Juergens, a single species of termites is responsible for creating and maintaining the circles. But the barren circles aren’t just a byproduct of these tiny insects living below the sandy desert surface; they are part of a carefully cultivated landscape that helps the termites—and many other organisms—thrive in an otherwise inhospitable climate.

Juergens hypothesized that if the fairy circles’ cause was biological, the organism would need to co-occur with the circles and would probably not be found elsewhere. Only one species fit the bill: Psammotermes allocerus, the sand termite. Not only was the sand termite the only insect species that lived across the entire range of the fairy circles, but these termites were found to be living beneath nearly every circle sampled. And the harder the termites worked – foraging, burrowing, and dumping their refuse – the more grass died, leading Juergens to conclude that the termites keep the circles barren by burrowing underground and foraging on the roots of germinating grasses.

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IRL: IOGEAR GearPower GMP10K, SteelSeries Free Mobile Gaming Controller and the Metabones Speed Booster

Welcome to IRL, an ongoing feature where we talk about the gadgets, apps and toys we’re using in real life and take a second look at products that already got the formal review treatment.

IRL: Timbuk2 Commute bag, SteelSeries Free Mobile Gaming Controller and the Metabones Speed Booster
Anyone out there a fan of Sony’s mirrorless cameras? How about Canon’s premium glass? Good. We knew there’d be some of you. In any case, with this week’s IRL, we’ll be sharing everything you ever wanted to know about the Metabones Speed Booster, which fastens your full-frame EF lenses onto Sony’s E-mount NEX cameras. And, of course, what would an IRL column be without an external battery pack? (Seriously, we can’t live without ‘em.)

Filed under: Misc


After 8 years, YouTube is finally shutting down

No, not really. In celebration of April Fool’s Day, YouTube went all out with their (highly unbelievable) prank. Now some of you may be saying, “You’re one day early YouTube, it’s March 31st”, but you have to keep in mind that its April 1st in some countries already, like Japan. In its April Fool’s Day prank, YouTube stated that after 8 years, the contest that is YouTube, will finally come to an end come midnight, April 1st.

YouTube April Fool's Day prank

The video shows footage of YouTube’s offices where 30,000 staff members are reviewing ALL of the content that has ever been uploaded to YouTube. In the video, Tim Liston, the “Competition Director”, states that it’s finally time to pick the “winner”. He also says that the entire process of determining the winner will take 10 years. The “winner” of the competition will be revealed in 2023 when YouTube’s site goes back online.

The video features interviews with a variety of uploaders with popular video uploads. There are interviews with iJustine, the uploaders of “____ reacts to ____” videos, Charlie bit my finger, David After Dentist, and more. The winners of the contest get a pretty terrible prize. They get a MP3 player that can be strapped to their sleeves, as well as a $500 stipend to be used towards their next creative venture (8 years well spent).

All in all, it was a creative video that will get you some laughs. Of course, if YouTube really were to shut down, it’d be a nightmare. How else are we going to get easy access to hands-on video demonstrations, or learn how to tie a tie? Fortunately for all of us, YouTube is doing extremely well and is seeing no threats of being shutdown, unlike Google Reader. Just last week, YouTube announced that it finally has 1 billion monthly active users. If YouTube was really a contest, which video would you nominate to win?

After 8 years, YouTube is finally shutting down is written by Brian Sin & originally posted on SlashGear.
© 2005 – 2012, SlashGear. All right reserved.

CrunchWeek: Amazon's Purchase Of Goodreads, YC's Smaller Demo Day And Bitcoin Hitting $1 Billion

It’s time for CrunchWeek, that very special time each week when a few of us writers gather around the TechCrunch TV cameras to shoot the breeze about the biggest and most interesting stories from the past seven days.

Anthony Ha, Colleen Taylor and I sat down to discuss Amazon’s purchase of social reading site Goodreads, Y Combinator’s Demo Day this past week and whether Bitcoin can become a real currency now that it is a billion dollar market.

World’s fastest supercomputer from ‘09 is now obsolete, will be dismantled

Roadrunner, formerly the world’s fastest supercomputer, is being decommissioned today.

Five years ago, an IBM-built supercomputer designed to model the decay of the US nuclear weapons arsenal was clocked at speeds no computer in the history of Earth had ever reached. At more than one quadrillion floating point operations per second (that’s a million billion, or a “petaflop”), the aptly-named Roadrunner was so far ahead of the competition that it earned the #1 slot on the Top 500 supercomputer list in June 2008, November 2008, and one last time in June 2009.

Today, that computer has been declared obsolete and it’s being taken offline. Based at the US Department of Energy’s Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, Roadrunner will be studied for a while and then ultimately dismantled. While the computer is still one of the 22 fastest in the world, it isn’t energy-efficient enough to make the power bill worth it.

“During its five operational years, Roadrunner, part of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Advanced Simulation and Computing (ASC) program to provide key computer simulations for the Stockpile Stewardship Program, was a workhorse system providing computing power for stewardship of the US nuclear deterrent, and in its early shakedown phase, a wide variety of unclassified science,” Los Alamos lab said in an announcement Friday.

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64GB HTC One available exclusively to AT&T

AT&T subscribers will apparently be able to purchase a 64GB version of the HTC One when the device heads to the United States. In its promotional video for the HTC One, AT&T revealed that it will exclusively have the 64GB version of the device, meaning that those of you on the other major carriers, like T-Mobile, will only have access to the 32GB HTC One. However, that shouldn’t be a deal breaker for many of you.

64GB HTC One available exclusively to ATT

Alongside the 64GB HTC One, AT&T will also offer both the silver version of the device (Glacier Silver) and the black version of the device (Stealth Black). AT&T also showed off two accessories that it will be selling alongside the HTC One. There’s the HTC Double Flip Case, that works just like the Samsung Galaxy Flip Cover and also doubles as a stand for hands-free viewing. There is also the Morphie Juice Pack that doubles as both a case, as well as an extended battery pack for heavy users.

Taking the center of attention in AT&T’s video is the HTC Blinkfeed and the HTC Zoe. AT&T shows off Blinkfeed’s simple, yet attractive interface that allows you to get all of your social network updates, news stories, and apps into a single timeline. HTC Zoe brings a whole new smartphone camera experience to users, taking 20 consecutive pictures while simultaneously recording a 3-second HD video. It creates a short, easily shareable story.

The HTC One is set to to launch in the United States before the end of April. Manufacturing of the phone was delayed due to supply shortages and manufacturers not treating HTC as a top-tier client. Many consumers are opting to get the HTC One, even over the recently announced Samsung GALAXY S 4. While it’s unfortunate that HTC is still playing favorites with AT&T, 32GB of storage should be sufficient for most users. If you’re still unsure whether the HTC One is the device for you, check out our review of the handset.

64GB HTC One available exclusively to AT&T is written by Brian Sin & originally posted on SlashGear.
© 2005 – 2012, SlashGear. All right reserved.

PBS shows how hacking is reclaiming its good name after a bad rap (video)

PBS explains how hacking got a bad rap and is reclaiming its good name video

Hacking is still a loaded concept for many, often conjuring negative images of corporate espionage, fraudsters and prank-minded script kiddies. PBS’ Off Book wants to remind us that hacking wasn’t always seen this way — and, thanks to modern developments, is mending its reputation. Its latest episode shows that hacking began simply as a desire to advance devices and software beyond their original roles, but was co-opted by a sometimes misunderstanding press that associated the word only with malicious intrusions. Today, hacking has regained more of its original meaning: hackathons, a resurgence of DIY culture and digital protests prove that hacks can improve our gadgets, our security and even our political landscape. We still have a long way to go before we completely escape movie stereotypes, but the mini-documentary may offer food for thought the next time you’re installing a custom ROM or building your own VR helmet.

Filed under: Misc, Networking, Internet, Alt


Iterations: Calendar Frenzy, Google Now, and Apple's “Anticipatory Computing” Problem

photo (1)

Editor’s Note: Semil Shah is a contributor to TechCrunch. You can follow him on Twitter at @semil.

Now that the Mailbox sale to Dropbox is complete, let’s move on to the next native iOS app that everyone wants to replace: The Calendar. Yes, the calendar. Nearly every other conversation I had this past week included some chatter about all the new calendar apps (see the screenshot of my iPhone). Peeling back the layers on all these calendar apps and the herd-like interest in the space, however, reveals both challenges and opportunities that go much deeper than comparing mobile apps based on product features.

For those among us who use Android, Google Now is the type of anticipatory computing, powered by data and algorithmic learning, that enables a machine to guide us in life almost like an assistant would. On Apple’s iOS, however, there is no such thing like “Apple Now,” and as a result, savvy entrepreneurs are seeking to build that service as a third-party application. And, curiously, they’re using the mobile calendar on Apple to kickstart this game and using calendar “intent” to infer what to send to the user.

The motivation to write this post came as a surprise. You may have noticed that, over the past month, the amount of “smart calendars” and “intelligent assistants” has seemed to explode, all at the same time. Not too long ago, iPhone users had the chance to buy well-designed calendar apps like Calvetica and Fantastical to have a better experience that what Apple’s native calendar app provides. I’d guess many Gmail loyalists on iPhone would love to have a native Google Calendar app, just as Google has shown excellence in iOS recently, but that doesn’t seem to be a high priority for now.

Back in the middle of 2012, I started using a service called Sunrise, which started on the web. It is a well-designed product that integrates your social networks and calendar to provide more context around upcoming meetings. More recently, Sunrise has built a clever iOS app that has many neat tricks, such as allowing users to go straight from Sunrise to Google Maps for iPhone, since our friends in Cupertino won’t let us set our own app-defaults for actions like these.

There are many players in this category, broadly speaking. Apps like Twist, which starts out with the goal of automating arrival alerts between meeting participants via SMS, or Cue (formerly Greplin), which presents your day’s information with more context on mobile, or Any.Do, a daily planner tying tasks together with the calendar, could grow into something larger at scale.

The big idea here is that systems like Sunrise and the others could, over time, start with making a better mobile iOS calendar and then grow into more anticipatory services, perhaps becoming a “Google Now for Apple.” And, as competition goes these days, just as Sunrise is drawing attention, we have witnessed a whole new crop of “intelligent assistants” on Apple’s platform, such as Tempo (originated at SRI) and Leave Now, as well apps that we can only anticipate (pun intended) like Sherpa and Donna, which haven’t yet been released. (I have not tried Sherpa or Donna.)

These are all great apps, quite sophisticated in their feature offerings, but overall, while I find this particular entrepreneurial pursuit more than noble, I wonder about how much of an effect these apps could have within the iOS ecosystem given all the hurdles presented by Apple. Let us count the ways. App Store discoverability seems to be getting worse, not better. Most of these apps ask for access to your iPhone contact list and your iPhone calendar, and if users don’t allow those permissions during onboarding and registration, users will need to navigate their way into “Settings” to reactivate those permissions piecemeal. Even if an app can extract these permissions, many of them end up grabbing location persistently, even though some of them talk about access the GPS sensor in low-power mode. I’m of the belief that these always-on, location-aware apps are slightly ahead of their time and will require fundamental advancements in moile battery technology before consumers will give up their battery life. (Even apps as elegant and useful as Moves or Highlight, for instance, which passively grabs user location data throughout the day, may have their overall adoption impacted because of this reason.)

The larger question here, ultimately, is the delta between the efficacy and utility of a service like Google Now and what is possible given the current iOS environment. The way things stand today — and I know things could change, with advancements like Google Glass or an iWatch, etc. — recreating a “Google Now-like” experience on iPhone can only happen at the application layer, hence the competition listed above, but in order to really work for consumers, it will have to be an OS-level solution. Perhaps Apple assumed technologies like Siri could start to train iOS users to start giving voice-commands as inputs with a long-term goal of delivering intelligent outputs. I don’t fully understand the depth of the technological problems underneath this, but at least as a consumer, this notion not only seems far off in the future, it may also be a pipe dream.

This poses a curious opportunity and challenge for iOS app builders in this space. Even though they may have deep technologies and elaborate product roadmaps, all of the hurdles of getting to scale on iOS as well as all the permissions they require from the mobile operating system present a series of minefields. In order to compete with a service like Google Now, an iOS app would need continuous access to data in our email, calendars, address book, and location logs. And, with the acquisition of Mailbox fresh in our minds, that transaction may have set a bandwidth that any app in this productivity space could fetch on the market.

While I would never want to constrain a young team’s sights on more short-term goals — and I do sincerely hope one of these players emerge to be on everyone’s iPhones — the combined reality of (1) Apple’s legacy mindset with respect to its own mobile operating systems and (2) today’s acquisitive environment for iOS teams means startups in the calendaring or assistant space on iOS have a small but rare opportunity to sprint to grow (hint: use the web!). And, if successful, they may end up in Cupertino building this, because it’s only at the OS level — not app layer — that Apple could begin to provide more pervasive computing services and allow their machines a chance to to get better with time. In long-run, all of this poses a significant challenge to Apple’s iOS platform. Perhaps this is just one way to read the tea leaves. Unless something drastically changes in the meantime with respect to the App Store, battery technologies, or simply how Apple sets up their OS, I just don’t see any other way.

Facebook’s Android OS will be called “Facebook Home”

Last week, we reported that Facebook is planning on revealing its own customized version of the Google Android operating system . They will be debuting their “special” version of the Android OS onto one of HTC’s devices. It’s speculated that it will launch on a new HTC device, however, there’s also reports that the OS will be able to run on HTC’s older handsets, and even on its upcoming flagship handset, the HTC One.

Facebook's new Android OS will be called Faceook Home

Now reports are saying that Facebook’s version of Android OS will be called “Facebook Home”. Sources revealed to 9to5Google that the tagline on Facebook’s invitations, “Come See Our New Home On Android”, is actually a teaser to the new product name. Facebook’s version of the OS will feature deep integration into Android. Facebook Messenger, Photos, and Contacts will be set as the default programs, with Facebook Messenger being used for both messaging your Facebook friends, as well as sending out SMS text messages.

The HTC smartphone that will feature the new, modified Android OS, and will most likely be announced at the event as well. Many sources say that the phone highly resembles the iPhone 5. It will have a home button at the bottom-center of the phone, with capacitive buttons on its right and left side. The device will have a screen larger than 4-inches, with speculations that it will be 4.3-inches. The phone is also said to be similar in size to the iPhone 5.

On top of both of these reveals, we’re also expecting Facebook to announce an upgrade to its Facebook for Android app. Android users have been waiting for a long time to have a decent Facebook for Android app. The current app, while much better than the versions before it, could still use a lot of work. We’re hoping that the app is just as smooth as the iOS app, if not better. Facebook had its employees work extra-hard on the Android app, so it’d be nice to see the results that have come from that. Tune in with us on April 4th, 10:00 A.M. PST, for the official updates from Facebook’s event.

[via 9to5Google]

Facebook’s Android OS will be called “Facebook Home” is written by Brian Sin & originally posted on SlashGear.
© 2005 – 2012, SlashGear. All right reserved.

I fell for the HTC One in a Tokyo cat cafe

I started off liking the HTC One. Now, having used it as my only camera while on holiday in Japan this past week, I’m in love with it. HTC has a whole lot riding on the One this year, and one of the more contentious features is the Zoe photography system, blending stills and short videos that are simultaneously captured in what the company says will “bring to life” your photo gallery. Attempts to differentiate from the gush of other Android devices with software customization is something we’ve seen so often now, it’s hard not to be cynical (and simply demand “pure” Android instead), but Zoe has turned out to be a different story.

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I’m bad at taking photos, especially when I’m away. All too often I’ll come back from a trip and realize I have nothing – bar the memories in my own head – to show for it. Stills seldom capture the emotion of a moment, while video gets long and unwieldy, and thus goes unwatched.

Zoe, though, combines a burst of twenty stills with about three and a half seconds of Full HD video. You can shoot just stills, or just HD video, but HTC expects most One users to give up on regular images and instead use Zoe mode: once you’ve captured a cluster of shots, you can then scroll through and pick out the one with the best framing or facial expressions, or indeed combine features from two stills into one. The One also automatically combines a selection of Zoes into a highlight reel, 30s of curated content complete with music, effects, and transitions.

What Zoe is particularly great at, though, is putting photography into a framework. You’re not just snapping hundreds of stills and recording dozens of videos – which, if you’re anything like me, you have a strong suspicion that you’ll never actually look through or share after you’re home. Instead, you start to think about photography in terms of easily snackable chunks of content: a simple 30 second highlight reel that you can imagine actually showing someone without having to worry that you’re boring them.

Find out all the details on the UltraPixel camera and Zoe system here

It also makes you think of your life in terms of events. On every other phone I’ve used, I’ve never bothered with albums: all of my images and videos have been left in one long stream of content (and one I seldom bother scrolling back through). On the One, though, you start to consider how an event might look when seen as a highlight reel: I started purposefully shooting panning shots that I knew would be particularly good at setting the scene, for instance, and tried to take more photos of people and their reactions, rather than just impressive landscapes.

The result is a gallery I actually want to flick back through, and photos I actually want to show to people. Highlight videos that require less than a minute’s investment in time are perfect for attention-short social networks like Facebook, Google+, and Twitter, and of course since it’s Android there’s fully baked-in sharing with whatever service you have installed.

“The result is a gallery I actually want to look through”

It’s not all perfect, however. As we noted in our review, right now the One gives you no control over what resolution the Zoe highlight reel is encoded at – it’s Full HD or nothing – and that makes for a big video. When you’re roaming abroad, it means finding a (fast) WiFi connection is essential unless you want to bankrupt yourself with foreign data fees.

That’s not the only upload-related headache. Zoe doesn’t work at all well with automatic-upload systems; I love how Google+ pushes new photos and videos to the cloud in the background, ready for me to share them later, but on the One every single shot is queued up for the same online treatment. Given each Zoe consists of twenty stills as well as the brief video, that means a whole lot of unnecessary duplication when you browse through online. “You have 3825 new photos ready to share” Google+ eagerly informed me, after suggesting that I might want to pay to upgrade my Google Drive storage.


In fact, there’s a sense that HTC only really thought about the photography experience on the One itself, not that people might want to explore their shots outside of the handset. Having spent a couple of hours sifting through all of the multiple Zoe shots after dumping them over to my computer, picking out the best/least blurry/most interesting to share with family, the comparative value of the highlight reels began to wane. For every scene there were twenty shots to key through, and the HTC Sync Manager app does nothing but push everything into iPhoto.

HTC really needs to offer more granular – and straightforward to use – control over which photos are treated as the default by other apps and services, particularly given the shortcomings of the current highlight reel selection process. Eventually, you should be able to pick out which images are used to build the automagically-edited video; right now, though, the only way to manually control what’s included and what isn’t is to sort them manually into different Event albums (the One splits up events that are at different times and locations automatically, but I found it still mixed together activities while I was away).

Those Events can then be used to create more specific highlight reels, but then you miss out on auto-uploading, since most such services only look at content in the root Photos folder. Events on the One are organized into subfolders, unless you copy rather than move them, in which case you run into storage limitations (which, since there’s no memory card slot, could quickly become an issue given the size of each single Zoe cluster).

I’d love to see HDR support in Zoe mode (at the moment, you can only use it in standard camera mode); that generally works well, though it sometimes left the sky oddly colored in brighter scenes. The ability to opt for longer highlight reels would be great too: a minute or 90 seconds, perhaps, to fit in more media from longer Events.

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The fumbles and glitches don’t undermine the overall experience, however. HTC’s decision to opt for a 4-megapixel-equivalent sensor might mean we get stuck with awkward “UltraPixel” branding, but it doesn’t stop the One from taking solid shots and delivering great low-light images (useful for when you’re taking food photos in restaurants; yes, I know it’s a cliché, but I still did it).

Zoe seemed like a gimmick at first, but it’s enough to make me reach for the HTC One in preference to the iPhone 5 or any other Android handset when I know I’m likely to be taking photos. Now HTC just needs to bring its sync app up to speed too, as well as do a better job of explaining to potential consumers why they might end up thinking the same, if they’d only give the One a try.

I fell for the HTC One in a Tokyo cat cafe is written by Chris Davies & originally posted on SlashGear.
© 2005 – 2012, SlashGear. All right reserved.

256 Shades Of Grey


I want a black and white computer, and I don’t want it out of sheer, wanton weirdness. I actually think it’s a good idea. Here’s why.

A huge, huge proportion of the content we consume every day is text. And, for many, an equal proportion of what they work with is text — be it code, email, or published content like this. For the consumption and creation of text, a monochrome display is all that is necessary, and in some ways even superior to a color one.

Pixels on an LCD like the one on which you’re probably reading this are made up of dots or sub-pixels — usually one red, one green, and one blue. The transistor matrix changes the opacity of a sub-pixel of a given color, and by working together they can create millions of hues and shades. But they work (with a few exceptions such as sub-pixel font smoothing and pentile layouts) only as triads, meaning a display with a resolution of 5760 by 3240 addressable dots has just 1920×1080 addressable pixels. (This is the reason why simply desaturating the image does not improve the resolution.)

If the iPad were monochrome, it would have nearly 800 pixels per inch

Consequently, if you were to remove the color filters, each sub-pixel would become a pixel — all only able to show shades of grey, of course, but pixels nonetheless, and far more of them than there were before. Result: extremely high spatial resolution, far beyond the so-called “retina” point, even at close range. If the iPad were monochrome, it would have nearly 800 pixels per inch. That’s beyond even glossy magazine levels of sharpness, a dream for rendering type.

It would also be brighter, or put another way, would require less backlight, since the removal of the filters allows far more light to pass through. That saves battery. Also saving battery is the reduced amount of graphics processing power and RAM necessary to store and alter the screen state, and so on. Small things, but not insignificant.

It would, of course, retain all of the other benefits of a modern, connected device, remaining as responsive and powerful as any other laptop or tablet, just minus the color. Logistically speaking, adapting existing content would not be that problematic (“time-shifting” apps and other extractors already do this). And it’s more than a glorified e-reader: the limitations of that type of hardware are lethal to many of the methods in which we are now accustomed to finding, consuming, and creating content (to say nothing of the screen quality).

Why black and white? Well, why color?

But what the hell is the point, you ask, if it’s not in color? The web is in color. The world is in color!

Your Instagram feed won’t be quite as striking in greyscale, it’s true. Rich media wasn’t designed for monochrome, and shouldn’t be forced into it. It demands color, and deserves it. Obviously you wouldn’t want to browse Reddit or edit video on a monochrome display. But if something does not require color, it seems pointless to provide it, especially when doing so has real drawbacks.

You’ve seen the apps that prevent procrastination, or make the user focus on a task, by blocking out distractions and the like. At some times, we want a tool that does one thing, and at other times, we want a tool that does others. That’s why computers are so great: They can switch between, say, text-focused work mode and image-focused movie mode in an instant.

They’re like Swiss Army knives: a corkscrew one minute and a can opener the next. But, as I tried to suggest in my previous column, if you tend to open a lot of wine bottles and very few cans, wouldn’t you prefer that you had a dedicated wine opener, without a bunch of other tools attached? That it can’t open a can is tragic, but more than made up for by its facility in its chosen task.

There will always be a place for the essential alone

I believe some people would not only be unperturbed by an inability to watch videos or what have you — in fact, they may prefer it. We already have different computing tools for different purposes, and we don’t demand that they all do everything — I have a laptop so I can write, as I am at the present, while enjoying some fresh air and coffee. I have a desktop for games and heavy productivity. I have an iPad for this, and an e-reader for that, and a phone for this, and a camera for that. What’s one more, especially when it would be, I believe, quite good at what it does, even if that’s “only” working with text?

There’s also a less practical, more aesthetic reason I would enjoy a black and white device. The content we consume and the ways we navigate it have become loud and colorful, and to me it does not appear that this profusion of saturation has been accompanied by a corresponding subtlety of design. The eruption of capabilities has made many lose touch with the beauty of austerity, and what’s billed as “minimalism” rarely is. There is a set of qualities that sets that starkness apart, and while we have always enjoyed ornamentation, there has always been (and will be for the foreseeable future) a place and purpose for the essential alone.

On that note, I think it would be an interesting experiment, and highly beneficial one, to attempt to rebuild, say, Facebook or an OS, without any color at all. When you subtract color cues like green for yes and red for no, or implicit boundaries based not on contrast and flow but on different coloration, the problem of presenting and consuming the information concerned is totally changed. Perhaps one would learn better the fundamentals of layout, flow, proportion, and so on, and that would inform the color world as well.

I read a lot, and I write for a living. I want a specialized tool for doing those things, just as a logger would want an axe instead of a big knife, or a runner a good pair of shoes instead of slippers. In the end, I like the idea of a black-and-white device and interface for many of the reasons I like black-and-white photography. It’s different, and has different strengths, and both requires and provides a different perspective. For me, that’s enough to at least want it on the table.

It's World Backup Day: no time like the present to protect the past

It's World Backup Day no time like the present to protect the past

There are two kinds of computer owners: those that backup their data, and those who will backup after they lose something irreplaceable. It’s that last group for whom World Backup Day exists, and the special occasion has returned for a third year to make sure we all wind up in that first, very responsible camp. Thankfully, it’s easier than ever to have at least some kind of safety net. Along with ridiculously high-capacity external hard drives, both Mac and Windows users have simple built-in software to make backup a set-it-and-forget-it affair. No money or room for an extra drive on the desk? No problem: cloud storage is ubiquitous, and even includes unlimited options. Mobile users have it a little easier with a myriad of Apple, Google and Microsoft cloud services, although there’s third-party options in that space, too. In short, you’ve got few excuses to skimp out when it comes to safeguards, and enough choices to seriously consider using two or more — which might be wise in this dangerous era of meteorite showers and brick-tossing robots.

Filed under: Storage, Internet


Source: World Backup Day

Google's Doodle Features American Labor Leader Cesar Chavez On Easter Sunday, Users Retaliate On Twitter


Google’s Doodles on the search page don’t frequently stir up too much controversy, but today many users are outraged by the search giant’s choice in featuring Cesar Chavez, an American farm worker, labor leader and civil rights activist. Of course, today is also Easter, which is one of the most observed and celebrated religious holidays for Christians around the world.

Users have taken to Twitter, expressing anger over the fact that the Doodle features the labor leader instead of a drawing honoring the holiday (Google search engine rival Bing did feature Easter Eggs on its homepage).

Why Cesar Chavez? In 2011, U.S. President Barack Obama proclaimed March 31 as “Cesar Chavez Day.” That being said, since the company frequently celebrates major U.S. and international holidays through the Doodles, it is a little bizarre that Google wouldn’t include a Easter Egg-type of Doodle. But if you do a search of Google Doodles that celebrate Easter, it appears the search giant hasn’t created an Easter Doodle since 2000.

Inhabitat's Week in Green: TORQ Roadster, quantum-dot solar cells and an invisibility cloak

Each week our friends at Inhabitat recap the week’s most interesting green developments and clean tech news for us — it’s the Week in Green.

DNP Inhabitat's Week in Green TKTKTK

This week, Team Inhabitat traveled to Mountain View, Calif., to get a look at the 100 percent sun-powered Solar Impulse airplane before it embarks on its first flight across the United States. Inhabitat editors also braved the crowds at the 2013 New York International Auto Show to report on the hottest new hybrids and electric cars. Some of the green cars unveiled at this year’s show were the compact Mercedes-Benz 2014 B-Class Electric Drive and BMW’s sexy new Active Tourer plug-in hybrid. The Tesla Model S was named the 2013 World Green Car of the Year, beating out the Renault Zoe and the Volvo V60. And speaking of new auto unveils, Epic EV unveiled its new all-electric TORQ Roadster, which looks like a roofless Batmobile and can go from 0-60 MPH in just four seconds.

Filed under: Misc, Transportation, Science


Raspberry Pi Model A (you know, the $25 one) finally on sale in US

Looks like the Easter Bunny delivered something even more delicious than eggs this year—the Raspberry Pi Model A is now available for purchase for $25 in the United States.

Allied Electronics, based in Texas, appears to be the first local retailer to sell the cheaper edition to the American market. Nearly two months ago, the Model A finally went on sale in Europe. Sales in Asia followed about a month later. However, for at least a week now, a German electronics shop has been selling the Model A to Americans on eBay for $38.50, and other British eBay sellers are selling combo editions, including a case.

The cost savings comes from skimping on an Ethernet port, and just a single USB port, which means the Model A needs just one-third the power that the Model B requires. (Conceivably, that means it’s also better-suited for solar-powered hobbyist projects.)

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YouTube Announces That It Has Been An 8-Year Contest, Will Shut Down On April 1 To Determine The Winner


Bad news, guys. YouTube is shutting down.

The platform launched eight years ago, and some of us have gotten so distracted by YouTube videos that we’ve forgotten that the whole thing is actually a competition. Or, YouTube never actually mentioned that it is a competition. Either way, that competition, called YouTube, is coming to a close.

To decide who has made the best YouTube video of all time, the company has put together an expert panel of judges, complete with film critics, prolific YouTube commenters, and YouTube celebrities including Charlie from “Charlie bit my Finger” and Antoine Dodson of “Antoine Dodson News Blooper (Original).”

YouTube has over 30,000 technicians working tirelessly to narrow down all the YouTube submissions that have come in over the past eight years. The judges will then spend the next decade discussing which video should ultimately win.

Tonight, at midnight, the site will be shut down and all of its content will be permanently deleted. YouTube won’t be ressurected until 2023, at which point the only video on the site will be the winner of this competition. That said, the winner won’t be chosen for another decade, but you can watch the first 12 hours of judging live-streamed from YouTube’s LA offices tomorrow.

Talk about slow and steady, right? Will people in 2023 remember YouTube?

Luckily, of the 150,000 submissions viewed by the judges, none of them are judged by popularity. Gangnam Style has the same chance of winning as this.

The winner will get an MP3 player and a $500 creative stipend for their next creative project.

Reactions to this news should be interesting. YouTube is one of Google’s most successful and valuable properties, and it’s a global necessity in terms of easy, made-for-everyone video sharing online. However, Google has been spring cleaning lately, removing Reader and a handful of other products from its portfolio.

Perhaps this is yet another step in streamlining its offerings.

OR, April Fools apparently happens one day early in Mountain View.

Blunts And Dancing Dogs In Tutus: How The Sharing Economy Is Re-Humanizing Business


I feel oddly guilty rejecting my Uber driver’s offer of a beer and a blunt. It’s 4 am. I’m drenched, hungover, and bewildered as to why I’m in a rustic garage on the outskirts of downtown Austin, watching tattooed pedicab drivers dance with a tiny dog in a pink tutu. This was not the ride home I expected.

Yet, my experience isn’t entirely unusual. After two years of experimenting with Internet services that allow everyday individuals to sell their cars, houses, and things — the so-called “sharing economy” — I’ve become accustomed to getting a face full of the sellers’ hopes, fears and quirks. Between services rendered and cash exchanged, friendships are forged, awkwardness is experienced, and memories are made.

Before the Industrial Revolution uprooted us from our small-town community roots, I imagine most business transactions included a side of humanity. Modern-day business sterilize transactions of the personal element. Human resource departments have hollowed out their employees, leaving little more than a pleasantly smiling husk of a person.

South By Southwest By The Sharing Economy

Every March, over 25,000 technology enthusiasts cram into the moderately sized metro of downtown Austin for the annual tech pilgrimage, South By Southwest Interactive. Hotels are sold out six months in advance, and every public service is bleeding out their windows with demand.

You’d have an easier time catching a cab stumbling naked and drunk down Times Square on New Years Eve than hailing a taxi during SXSW.

At 4 a.m., after the final after parties had simmered down, the only shot I had at making it back to my bed before I had to wake up the next morning was Uber, the popular smartphone taxi application that had contracted with independent pedicabers during SXSW, to usher sleepy technologists to and fro downtown Austin.

I did not, however, foresee the torrential downpour halfway though my trip that instantly saturated my clothes to my frigid bone. No longer able to stand the sharp icicles falling from the sky, yet still needing to finish the ride, our courtesy pedicab driver took a pit stop at Pediacab HQ to pick up his car and stow his bike.

Pedicab headquarters is like the second-class deck of the Titanic, a dimly lit haven where free-spirited tattooed servicemen party their blue collars off to loud music, an abundance of cheap beer, and liberally available recreational drugs.

“I got jungle juice for sale! It’s strong,” yelled a muscular African American man in his mid-thirties, who backed up a truck full of tortellini and cheap liquor, during what appeared to be his nightly run to the breaking pedicabers. Passing off a blunt, a line forms to offer him wads of crumpled dollar bills in exchange for a styrofoam box filled to the brim with cheap, delicious carby goodness.

“They just aren’t cut out for straightforward jobs,” explains my pedicab driver, about his uniform-less colleagues. “I had a regular sort of office job,” he adds. But, pedicabbing “filled a niche that I didn’t even knew existed.”

Indeed, eccentric personalities seem to flock to the peddling business. The night before I had been driven home by a red-headed engineer, whose super-skinny, yet muscular body supported a head with a beard so thick and unkempt, it look liked it had burst out of his chin. He told me that between judo tournaments, he was pulling 22-hour days as a driver to pay for graduate school in geographic information systems.

It goes to show that behind every invoice and credit card terminal is a person who has experienced their own unique set of crazy, which life inevitably presents while living on our crowded Earth. Traditional retail robs us of a truer view of humanity, with its memories and the tangible sense of its diversity.

Though I wouldn’t knowingly pay money for it, sometimes the worst experiences are the most enriching. I once endured 20 minutes of forced laughter, as my driver regaled me with his amateur comedy routine. Lyft, a popular car-sharing alternative in San Francisco, encourages its drivers to be extroverted. Usually, this just means a mandatory fist-bump and a “how’s your day?” On occasion, it’s much more.

My would-be comedian driver reminded me that not every starving artist is hocking paintings on a street corner. More often than not, it’s a cashier scribbling notes in between customers, dreaming of the day he’ll make it big and tell his boss to screw off. Many of the world’s cherished artists, scientists, policymakers, and businessmen have humble roots.Who knows how much creativity and innovation the world has lost due to the callous whims of an entitled consumer.

So, while I can’t give our comedian his big break, my time with the sharing economy has made me more patient with those I regularly interact with. I’ll think twice about giving the stink eye to a barista who forgets my request for extra-foam on my no whip tazo chai frappuccino. I’ll wish my Verizon customer service agent a happy Easter. I might even refrain from tweeting nasty remarks at a politician or vote for a bill to fund a community arts center.

Or, as the Scottish author Ian MacLaren once reminded us:

This man beside us also has a hard fight with an unfavouring world, with strong temptations, with doubts and fears, with wounds of the past which have skinned over, but which smart when they are touched. It is a fact, however surprising. And when this occurs to us we are moved to deal kindly with him, to bid him be of good cheer, to let him understand that we are also fighting a battle.

All Things SXSW (Re)Considered


Editor’s note: Marc Ruxin is CEO and co-founder of TastemakerX. Follow him on Twitter @ruxputin.

If you went to SXSW 20 years ago, you would have been there to see and discover new music. You worked at a label or publishing company, or perhaps you were a journalist or PR rep. Sure, there were locals and college kids swaying next to you at the shows, but in the end, SXSW was an industry event where bands were discovered, signed and given a chance to break out. There were no cell phones. There was no social media.

Buzz was entirely old-school word of mouth. There was no Pitchfork or BrooklynVegan or Hype Machine. There weren’t countless photos and tweets flooding the universe with directional information. There weren’t massive compounds across the freeway like those from Fader or Spotify, mostly just the venues up and down 6th street and a few other streets. There was no aggregated crowd wisdom. You had to stand in front of a band and use your eyes and ears to have a sense for whether the band was happening. You’d have to look around the room and read the faces of the fans in the audience to see what kind of reaction the music elicited. Yup, the old-fashioned way, when tastemaking wasn’t crowd-sourced, but a skill you either learned or inherited.

There was no aggregated crowd wisdom.

Although the first films showed up at SXSW in 1994, the film fest picked up steam a decade ago, and is now a steady and lower decibel buzz that extends for the duration of the festival. And although I am a film nut, I rarely have the time to see many films. I did see the star-studded slacker romance Drinking Buddies, which seemed a near-perfect choice to play in Austin. The films are appropriately and largely American indies or documentaries focused on young hipster types or iconic American documentary subjects. The lines are long for most buzzy screenings, but unlike Sundance or Toronto or Cannes, SXSW isn’t a buyer’s festival. It’s more a low-key event for film fans and a fun place to premiere a film.

Flash forward 20 years. Music almost feels second fiddle to what SXSW has become. The world has changed dramatically. The label ecosystem has been decimated by a combination of incompetence and the inevitable evolution of technology. Indie film has been largely relegated to Netflix and Amazon; fewer and fewer screens play indie films and for increasingly shorter runs. Technologists are a new breed of rockstar: Elon Musk ~Thom Yorke, Daniel Ek ~ Dave Grohl, Jack Dorsey ~ Bono. Tech companies also have band-like counterparts: Jawbone ~ Radiohead, Uber ~ Alt-J, Airbnb ~ Mumford.

But in the end, as much as technology has democratized so much of our lives, it has also eaten SXSW.

But in the end, as much as technology has democratized so much of our lives, it has also eaten SXSW. What began as a music conference/festival has become a carnival of hype and ambient noise. Tech companies large and small slog it out on the streets of Austin trying to break out or expand their lead. There are panels throughout the week that very few people seem to attend, and parties that almost nobody seems to be able to get into. There is free shit everywhere. GroupMe still buys grilled cheese for people with the app on their phone (thanks, Microsoft). Other companies ply attendees with food, booze, energy drinks, stickers, T-shirts, free pedi cabs, and music. It is an endless sea of noise, and it rolls out like this for the uninitiated.

In the event that you question the magnitude of the real battle for consumer attention, SXSW is an exaggerated ground zero for understanding the intersection of technology, youth culture and the evolution of media.

On Friday, the techies invade Austin. The locals vacate and rent every available room in the city on Airbnb at increasingly egregious prices. Thousands of companies compete for press on the blogosphere, with the hopes of becoming the next big thing (although it has been quite a few years since Twitter and Foursquare broke out and they didn’t really launch at SXSW). And those companies that have already broken out throw increasingly outrageous parties, fighting hard to seduce an A-List crowd. It’s a big hipster schmooze filled with old guys trying to stay relevant and young guys dreaming of becoming rich old guys that somehow managed to stay relevant. There are VCs, brand marketers, PR folks, engineers, biz dev guys, legit celebs, and Internet celebs dining at food carts and sampling $20 club sandwiches at the Four Seasons.

This lasts until Tuesday or Wednesday when the nerds leave and the real hipsters and music tech nerds arrive to do essentially the same thing but with endless amounts of epic live music, prioritized wait lists, and endless venture-funded boondoggling. Great bands play everywhere from Stubbs to a tiny stage in a restaurant. This year bands on a meteoric rise like Alt-J, Lord Huron, The Joy Formidable, St. Lucia, Foxygen and others played 10 times over a week and often three times a day. But this is a different SXSW. Everywhere there are phones in the air capturing photos, video, tweeting, checking in, texting. In the air there is a sea of Vine, Twitter, Foursquare, Facebook, Path, Snapchat, and a bunch of other smaller apps like TastemakerX, Soundtracking and Songkick focused on music.

But when the dust settles, there is no more vibrant a microcosm for observing the modern age than SXSW. Culture, technology, food, film, art all displayed at a hyperbolic scale. Music and film have been massively disintermediated by technology, and in a sense music and film now compete with social media, social games, and the Internet broadly for time. But in the same breath, technology has now enabled musicians and filmmakers to create and distribute their art to a global audience at a significantly lower cost and with very little friction.

SXSW used to be about music, but now it seems to be about everything and nothing at all. Like the occasional trip to Vegas, the first 48 hours are great. But at 48 hours and one minute, you feel like you need to leave immediately. And like the indie bands you used to love until they got too big and commercial and you lost interest, SXSW is all grown up. It’s not the DIY mecca it used to be, but then again occasionally there is that band that grows up and still remains relevant and cool, and in that way perhaps SXSW is kind of like Radiohead.

Engadget Podcast 337 - 03.28.13

Missed us live at our new weekly livestream home on YouTube at 3PM ET last Thursday? Fret not, because we’ve got you covered here with the video and audio recordings as usual. So, listen on your time as Tim, Brian and Peter talk everything from OUYA to Angry Birds hand sanitizer. Stream it below, or catch the subscription links and video embed after the break. Happy weekend!

Hosts: Tim Stevens, Peter Rojas, Brian Heater

Producers: James Trew, Joe Pollicino

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Filed under: Podcasts