January 27, 2015
January 27, 2015
December 27, 2014
I just received Google’s Oculus Rift emulator. Given that it’s made of cardboard, it’s all kinds of awesome.
Google Cardboard is a poke in Facebook’s eyes. FB bought Oculus Rift, the virtual reality headset, for $2B. Oculus hasn’t yet shipped a product, but its prototypes are mind-melting. My wife and I tried one last year at an Israeli educational tech lab, and we literally had to have people’s hands on our shoulders so we wouldn’t get so disoriented that we’d swoon. The Lab had us on a virtual roller coaster, with the ability to turn our heads to look around. It didn’t matter that it was an early, low-resolution prototype. Swoon.
Oculus is rumored to be priced at around $350 when it ships, and they will sell tons at that price. Basically, anyone who tries one will be a customer or will wish s/he had the money to be a customer. Will it be confined to game players? Not a chance on earth.
So, in the midst of all this justifiable hype about the Oculus Rift, Google announced Cardboard: detailed plans for how to cut out and assemble a holder for your mobile phone that positions it in front of your eyes. The Cardboard software divides the screen in two and creates a parallaxed view so you think you’re seeing in 3D. It uses your mobile phone’s kinetic senses to track the movement of your head as you purview your synthetic domain.
I took a look at the plans for building the holder and gave up. For $15 I instead ordered one from Unofficial Cardboard.
When it arrived this morning, I took it out of its shipping container (made out of cardboard, of course), slipped in my HTC mobile phone, clicked on the Google Cardboard software, chose a demo, and was literally — in the virtual sense — flying over the earth in any direction I looked, watching a cartoon set in a forest that I was in, or choosing YouTube music videos by turning to look at them on a circular wall.
Obviously I’m sold on the concept. But I’m also sold on the pure cheekiness of Google’s replicating the core functionality of the Oculus Rift by using existing technology, including one made of cardboard.
(And, yeah, I’m a little proud of the headline.)
December 13, 2014
We went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for its amazing, bottomless collection, but while we were there we visited the Madame Cézanne exhibit. It’s unsettling and, frankly, repellant.
Please note that I understand that I don’t know what I’m talking about. I’m the sort of museum-goer who likes the works that he likes. I can’t even predict what is going to touch me, much less make sense of it. Which is, I believe, more or less the opposite of how actual criticism works.
The Met has assembled twenty-four paintings and sketches by Cézanne of his wife Hortense. As compositions some are awesome (he is Cézanne after all), but as portraits they seem technically pretty bad: her face is sometimes unrecognizable from one picture to the next, even ones that were painted within a couple of years of one another.
But what does that matter so long as Cézanne has expressed her soul, or his feelings about her, or both? Or, in this case, neither. You stare at those portraits and ask what he loved in her. Or, for that matter, hated in her? Did he feel anything at all about her?
The exhibit’s helpful wall notes explain that in fact there seems to have been little love in their relationship, at least on his part. The NY Times review of the show musters all the sympathy it can for Hortense and is well worth reading for that.
We know little about Madame Cézanne. And we learn little more from these portraits. It is fine to say that Cézanne was interested in shape, form, and light, not personality. But the fact that he had her sit immobile for countless hours so he could paint a still life made of flesh is a problem, especially since Cézanne seems to have loved his peaches and pears more than he loved this woman.
Here’s a little more eye-bleach for you: a quick Picasso painting of a woman who sleeping is yet more alive than Madame Cézanne as represented in her husband’s careful artistry:
On the far more positive side, we also went to the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibit of Matisse’s cut-outs.
I’ve always liked Matisse, but have never taken him too seriously because he seems incapable of conveying anything except joy — although a full range of joy, from the sensuous to the spiritual. I’m sure I’m not appreciating him fully, but not matter what, oh my, what a genius of shape and color. I didn’t want to leave.
If you can see this collection, do. So much fun.
November 8, 2014
An ad hoc study commission of the Italian Chamber of Deputies has published a draft “Declaration of Internet Rights” that should be cause for cheers and cheer. It’s currently open for public comment at the Civici Platform — which by itself is pretty cool.
TechPresident explains that this came about
I like the document a lot. A lot a lot. The principles are based on a genuine understanding of the value that the Net brings and what enables the Net to bring that value. This is crucial because so often those who seek to govern the Net do so because they see it primarily as a threat to order or a challenge to their power.
The Declaration focuses on the rights of individuals, taking the implicit stance (or so I read it) that the threat to those rights comes not only from Internet malefactors and giant Internet conglomerates run amok, but also from those who seek to govern the Net. It includes as rights not only access to the Net, but access to education about how to use the Net, a point too often forgotten. (Not by Eszter Hargittai, though, who has done the seminal work in showing that Internet skills are not as easily acquired as we often assume.)
Since my larynx seizes whenever its faced with the prospect of talking about governing the Internet, I personally wish the document would be even more direct about the dangers of trying to “fix” the Internet. For example, it could recommend principles such as these to our Internet Overlords:
But that’s probably just me. Far more important, this draft Declaration of Internet Rights is an important reminder to the Internet’s wannabe regulators that the Net is a powerful force for human good that should be helped to flourish, not merely a negative force that needs to be restrained.
For more information, I strongly recommend the TechPresident article by Fabio Chiusi.
October 3, 2014
…the car alarm.
When one goes off, the community’s reaction is not “Catch the thief!” but “Find the car owner so s/he can turn off the @!@#ing car alarm.” At least in the communities I’ve lived in. (Note: I am a privileged white man.)
The signal-to-noise ratio sucks for car alarms in every direction. First, it is a signal to the car owner that is blasted to an entire neighborhood that’s trying to do something else. Second, it’s almost always a false alarm. (See note above.) Third, because it’s almost always a false alarm, it’s an astoundingly ineffective true alarm. The signal becomes noise.
Is there any modern technology with a worse signal-to-noise ratio?
September 1, 2014
June 22, 2014
On Friday I was part of the This Week in Law vidcast, hosted by my it’s-been-too-long friend Denise Howell [twitter: dhowell], along with Nina Paley [twitter: gorgeous + righteous. You must see it. That is an order.) It was a non-lawyerly discussion, which I was relieved to find out not because I dislike lawyers but because I could not have participated except by intermittently interjecting, “I object! On the grounds of say what now?”
Anyway, I can’t remember everything we talked about, except I know there was stuff about the effficacy of online advertising, the emerging norms for privacy, Amazon’s weaponized drones, Google Real-Death Bumper Cars, and nude photos of Robert Scoble.
You can get the vidcast/audiocast here. It’s a 1:35 long, where the first digit represents HOURS.
A Nina sample:
June 6, 2014
My wife and I just spent nineteen hours in Yeruham [flickr photos] in the Negev desert. We were visiting Avi Warshavsky and his family who I know through the Center for Educational Technology, an Israeli non-profit that encourages tech innovation (in Hebrew and Arabic) for schools. Avi is the head of MindCET, a remarkable ed tech incubator in Yeruham, and is a highly respected figure in the Israeli open tech field. (I was brought to Israel by Yad Hanadiv and the National Library of Israel to talk with the Library about its digital initiative. I also gave an informal talk to the Library staff, talked at a Wikimedia conference, and went to a meetup of Hasadna (a collective of open data activists), so it’s been a busy and ultra-stimulating week.)
Anyway, yesterday evening we went down to Yeruham, a town of 10,000 noted for its open-hearted culture. You come to Yeruham after a long drive through an increasingly barren landscape. Yeruham Lake announces the start of the town, which in the US might make it all the way to being a large pond, but which is the second largest lake in Israel. (I think I must have gotten that wrong since it doesn’t even make Wikipedia’s list of lakes in Israel, which is only three entries long.) The town itself is modest but full of the signs family life: playgrounds, small shops, cafes, a well-used cultural center.
That evening, Avi took us and two of his children to see "the crater" from atop Mt. Avnun. You drive up a two-way road about the width of 1.5 cars until you are on the top of a mountain. Then you walk for about two minutes to get to the edge of a cliff bounded by a trip wire pretending to be a fence. The crater is not a deep hole but more like an upside-down bottle cap, except the edges are mountains and the bottle cap would take a day of walking to cross. Also, if you or any of your loved ones get too close to the edge of this bottle cap, they will be pulled off by an invisible vortex which your host insists does not exist but you can sense through your X-Man power of Being Afraid.
It’s quite beautiful.
The next day, we started the morning by going to David Ben-Gurion‘s burial place, which is a park of green atop a bluff that looks out at a sea of bluffs. Magnificent. If only Charlton Heston were there to hold his arms out majestically.
In the park, if you go in the morning, you can see wild ibexes (ibixen?) chewing at the vegetation, birds of various sorts, and lizards scuttling about. The ibexes we saw were smaller than deer, and lovely. It was great to see the ibex outside of its usual habitat: the crossword puzzle.
Then we went to Avdat, a Unesco World Heritage site where you can wander through a mountaintop village built of stone inhabited by the Nabataeans, Romans, and Byzantines from third century BCE to the seventh century CE. It was one of 65 walled villages along the route incense caravans took to ships waiting in Gaza. It is a beautiful spot, and more of the old village remains than I’d expected. We were the only people there. (It was also the first time in my life I wished I were wearing sun glasses. After about half an hour, I had trouble seeing.)
In a total switch of context, we then went to the MindCET offices, which were closed for the Shavuos holiday. Avi and I were able to catch up on the 14 startups MindCET has worked with, the global Ed Tech competition MindCET is co-sponsoring, and more. MindCET is a great place for early stage startups, providing them with a place to co-work and mentoring. Yeruham would like to attract more tech companies, which I can see. It seems like a wonderful community.
Also, at night Yeruham has stars We should get some of those for Boston.
June 1, 2014
At the Tel Aviv headquarters of the Center for Educational Technology, an NGO I’m very fond of because of its simultaneous dedication to improving education and its embrace of innovative technology, I got to try an Oculus Rift.
They put me on a virtual roller coaster. My real knees went weak.
Earlier, I gave a talk at the Israeli Wikimedia conference. I was reminded — not that I actually need reminding — how much I like being around Wikipedians. And what an improbable work of art is Wikipedia.
May 14, 2014
An article at How-To Geek explains how to create keyboard shortcuts for Google Chrome. It explains the built-in way to assign a keystroke to an extension, and recommends the Shortcut Manager extension that lets you create shortcuts for much of Chrome’s built-in functionality.
I will take this occasion to recommend Tab Rocker, by Joel Weinberger [twitter:metromoxie]. It lets you toggle between two open tabs via a keystroke. Joel wrote the first draft of it in a Thanksgiving afternoon after I whined about not having that functionality. Shortly afterwards Joel began working at Google as a security genius (which is not his official title but should be). And, yes, he is related to me: he’s my nephew.