Who’s Brent Spiner? Oh: The Problem With Getting Stuck On Data.


Way back in 1890, a couple of dudes who no one particularly remembers published a paper declaring “to be let alone” a basic human right. They titled it, self-evidently enough, The Right to Privacy.

The claim had been prompted by the shock of “recent inventions and business methods” that had turned the goddamn world upside down. These were, obviously, the instantaneous photograph and the contemporary newspaper enterprise, and these “mechanical devices” were going to prove “that ‘what is whispered in the closet shall be proclaimed from the house-tops.’” Since then the population of the United States has grown from around 70M to a low estimate of 295M, and the flood of technology has left us with nowhere but the roof-tops to stand, and so, friends, here we are.

Privacy doesn’t exist. Not really, you know? As Blake Shaw of Foursquare recently told an indignant audience at a Columbia University-sponsored panel, “privacy is a modern invention.” Our concept of individual space is closely tied to things like population growth, religious freedom, personal wealth, and Western individualism.  Think about the living conditions of ancient humans. Houses (if they existed at all) were tiny and cramped and whole families lived together in one central room.

But when Western Civilization scooched over the Atlantic and suddenly there was all this open space, and all this potential for getting paid, and the idea of the Self-Made Man emerged, it created a whole, pun intended, New World. Suddenly humans could spread out and be alone and all it took was some good ol’  American Know-How. Even then, though, it was still only the wealthy who practiced privacy as we understand it. Most people were still poor and cramped and out in the open. But the seed had been planted, and pretty soon the Right to Privacy was as engrained in the common sentiment as were other wacky concepts like the Freedom of Speech and Religion and the Right to Bear Arms that most other humans alive in the middle of the 19th century—and still many today—would have balked at as well.

Fast forward a hundred years or so, and The United Nations seems to think that, at least in some ways, #BigData can solve some of the more cumbersome issues that arise from this whole, fucking, Life thing we’ve been trying on. Following that huge shitstorm in 2008, the UN started Global Pulse, an initiative which aims to turn all the massive amounts of information we’re generaiting into a safe-guard system for the planet.

See, the idea is that there’s a lot of shit going on that, historically, doesn’t get noticed till it becomes, well, history, right? That’s because it takes a fairly long time to get perspective on all the personal accounts and financial records and government intelligence reports and 50-year climate indices and all that super boring stuff that nerds love to analyze and argue about and publish and prove and debunk and, then, who the fuck cares? Nerds! They love that shit. To avoid a mouthful, they came up with a fancy scientific way to say it all: latent assemblage of quantifiable variables (not an actual term) that is: ‘data’. This shit is nothing new—obviously, granted—but it needs to be said.

What has changed is the amount of time it takes to put it all together and analyze. That’s good. That means that the UN can know which regions of which country are about to need food since people there keep Tweeting stuff like “Fuck I’m hungry! #LifeSucks,”, or if there’s about to be an outbreak of some potential pandemic since, like, a bunch of people all searched WebMD for the same symptoms. All good things, right? The downside, of course, is that since it doesn’t take a whole generation or three to clock the world’s ups and downs, all the people involved are still alive. Unlike the traditional approach to historical research (i.e. “Let’s find out why all those people had super shitty lives back then”), the new #BigData model hopes to be preventative, predictive. So we call this: Real-Time Data Gathering. A.K.A.: The constant surveillance of living human beings.

To many of these humans—often using logic when contemplating the potentialities inherent here—this sounds uncool. Global crisis prevention be damned; that’s some Big Brother type of shit to a degree that George Orwell couldn’t possibly have imagined. But, anyway, here we are.

Of course there are potentially huge violations that would be possible in a society that keeps tabs on all its citizens. Certainly. Like, if shit were to get hairy there’d be zero chance for clandestine rebellion. Plus, if data and trend analysis were used in law enforcement one could totally imagine some Minority Report sort of deal which could determine if somebody’s recent behaviors implied a high-probability of #FutureCrime.

But then, say the sensors in Grandma’s phone detected a hip-shattering shift in her movements on a rainy day, followed by a prolonged horizontal tendency. The thing could not only send out an emergency call detailing the probability that Nana had slipped off a slick curb on her way home from Luby’s, but also put out a blanket S.O.S. in case any qualified First Responders happened to be enjoying the chicken fried steak buffet right then.

It’s not all big and grand noble stuff, of course. Data is the 2012 summer jam  because it’s sort of like the Holy Grail for companies that dig making money. The fact is that the more companies know about us, the more products they can make that are guaranteed to sell. Successful products usually fill some kind of need—as debatable as the origin of that need is— in our lives. Whether it’s knowing if that can of delicious Coors Golden Banquet is cold without needing to touch it, or having an unbelievably powerful portable computer/GPS/gaming console/personal assistant/infinite encyclopedia/camera in our damn pockets that we can also use to tap into invisible waves of magic and initiate omniglobal vocal interfacing with homies, the need is fulfilled.

Genome from Yahoo! from The Nation on Vimeo.

Yes. Many of these products are cutesy iterations at best. Some are less than worthless, but—as I’ve said before—we are brand new at this, guys. In order for technology to progress—at least in our current system—it needs to be monetized. Companies are trying to figure that out. What we might do, though, is vocalize our boundaries and make sure that our data is being used in our best interests. It can be.

Like, a few years ago I was dating this one babe who went to Cali for New Year’s. I, obviously, stayed in New York during one of the more wintery winters in recent memory. Snowmaggedon aside, it wasn’t all that bad. Except, this: Before said babe ditched for the Golden State Advantage she sent me a textvitation to join something called Google Latitude, a social geolocation app that would cause me endless fits of angst and misery over the following two weeks spent effectively snow-bound in my shitty Bed-Stuy pad.

I suppose the whole idea is that, like, say you and your bros are all super tight together and hang all the time and so figure that if y’all always know when a homie encroaches—like some sort of social Spidey-Sense—well, bonus! Hang time anytime. Or if you’re an overbearing loving parent and your kid is a delinquent free-spirit, you can keep GPS tabs on them to make sure they hate you till you die don’t skip class and ultimately thank you for the TLC when they’re old enough to appreciate your hardshiphow totally nuts you are.

The fact that social apps are so prevalent now is no fluke. People, generally, want to feel like they belong—to something—whether it be the cool-kids club in high school or the even cooler “we’re notthe cool kids” club, also in high school, but then later behind the counters of bars and MacBook screens.

Even if we spend the majority of our time alone, social media gives us the metrics for self-satisfaction, and as these e-clubs have flooded the app stores, a wave of spin-offs have crested. Services likeHighlight  and Sonar scrape little bits from all of our various data-holes and aim to connect us with potential homies.  With Highlight you get a notification every time another Highlighter with mutual friends or common interests is in some determined vicinity. Of course, with the lax way that most people employ the Add Friend and Like buttons, it’s really a crap-shoot on how common or mutual these things are. Mostly I’ve been notified because some rando nearby also Liked Battlestar Galactica,Ted Talks, or you. And with the 647 acquaintances on my FB, the likelihood of us connecting over mutuals for reals is slim, bro. But as we heard at WWDC, Apple’s upcoming iOS 6 will have a Find My Friends feature—and Facebook is dropping the Find Friends Nearby tool—that could prove more right on with direct access to our contacts (For example. I just found out that a dude who I grew up with in Austin now also lives in Brooklyn, we share 62 friends and I had no idea he was here). Though these may stir up some awkward moments when our mutual friend is related to the Melanie GirlAtBar or Daisy OkCupid family trees in our Contacts.

Then there’s the recently debuted Coordinate service from good old Google which aims to kill the Pizza Boy Porn Genre by enabling employers to keep constant tabs on their remote workforce:

“Did you order the sausage?”

“I did call for a five letter word that starts with a P, but I was ho—“

“Seriously, lady, if I’m here for more than two minutes my electro-collar sends out 200 volts right under my head.”

“But you’re not wearing a collar.”

“Oh, yes I am…”

Yo! So some of this sends off all kinds of alarm bells, given its ability to incite relentlessly wack breaches of our personal bubbles—see: Girls Around Me , an app which was to stalkers-slash-date-rapists what Keystone Light is to frat-boys-slash-date-rapists—but we’re new to this game. Kids growing up today won’t remember getting their Facebook because their parents have been using it as a scrapbook since they were born. Also, those same parents will likely have been using digital leashes like FBI Child ID, Footprints, and Glympse since the brats were old enough to need a phone of their own (you know: five). They’ll be so used to the idea of broadcasting their lives that, by the time they’re old enough to have real friends, sharing those permissions could become the new friendship bracelet. We’d call it #BroCasting.

Eventually, when everyone is on the map in real-time, turning off your signal could be tantamount to cruising a big white van with curtained windows around your local school zone. Which brings me to what I’m gonna call The Black Box Effect of Radical Transparency. Just like it sounds, there would be a record for every moment. The Internet would become the world’s most big-mouthed tattle tale. No more unsolved hit and runs, cheating on your spouse would be a real pain in the ass, and Peeping Toms would find that the peeper had become the peeped. Now, while would-be offenders could just leave their phones at home, that’s assuming that these technologies stay in our phones. With the trends in wearable tech and sensor everything, the chances of GPS trackers migrating to our skivvies are high indeed. Unless yon John Wayne Gacy plans on prowling in the buff, he totes won’t be getting around to those home improvements any time soon.

We just live in opaque boxes, and most of our private time is spent sleeping. But if someone were interested in learning everything there is to know about you, it would be wildly easy. Not only in a freaky CIA sort of sense, but with the integration of Social across Internet media, we increasingly put that shit out there for free. On Hulu a box asks you “What are you thinking?” even as another box on your Facebook Timeline populates with what are you watching. On Spotify we get what are you listening to, and with Instagram we go even further to what are you seeing. But does anybody really care about what most of us do with our time? There will always be people watchers, but eventually, as we get more used to the freaky union of our cyber and meat spaces, nobody will care about the constant feed of updates on what people are watching, listening to, or doing just right then. Does anybody really pay attention to that stuff anyway?

Like some geezer being all stumped by that wacky enigma, the personal computer, the next generations will leave us all looking just as confounded and obsolete. When we were kids the common wisdom was, like, why don’t y’all kids respect your elders more since they’ve got all this wisdom and shit and we were, like, “OMG, mom! If grandpa wants to share his stories he should start a LiveJournal like the rest of us. Duh!”

Now, before you get on my case here, I’m no Elderist bigot. My point is that it’s no longer the technology itself that will leave us in the dust long before we bite it. From now on it’ll be the different ways people choose to use existing technology. We won’t be going to community colleges to learn what those kids mean by “right-click”. More like we’d be going to group seminars on being more comfortable with data-nudity. Since, like, how Emily Nussbaum so eloquently put it in this New York Mag feature:

“Kids today. They have no sense of shame. They have no sense of privacy. They are show-offs, fame whores, pornographic little loons who post their diaries, their phone numbers, their stupid poetry—for God’s sake, their dirty photos!—online. They have virtual friends instead of real ones. They talk in illiterate instant messages. They are interested only in attention—and yet they have zero attention span, flitting like hummingbirds from one virtual stage to another.”

But, hey, que viva the future, right? Bet on those wacky assholes of the future broadcasting their geolocation from every Taco Bell in the world. Because that’s what’s up with the future. We can call itRadical Transparency for now, and then likely some portmanteau like RadTran, but eventually they’ll just call it Life. Much like we call this ‘Life’ even though it’s an Orwellian nightmare scenario, Code Red, that our parents spent their lives fighting hopelessly against.


The Samsung Galaxy S III: And Why The Heck Not?

The Samsung Galaxy S III is just the thing to make Apple loyalists question the sanity in their devotion. Apple should do the same.

In 2007, when everyone was running around with RAZR flip phones in one hand and an iPod nano in the other, Apple gave us a sea change. Nobody who has ever bought movie tickets with Fandango, decided on dinner with Yelp, or wasted actual precious chunks of their lives playing brain-hole games like Angry Birds or Temple Run (e.g. me, sadly) can deny that the iPhone changed the way we interact with the world and with each other—by changing our understanding of how we could.

But, yo, people. That was five years ago. That thing caught everybody of guard. We were silly with it; remember? People paid $999.99 for I Am Rich, the arrow-pointing-up-I’m-With-Stupid-shirt for the new millennium. An app called iFart Mobile famously inhaled $10,000 dollars per day in 2008. iFart. iFART! Yes. We were silly, turns out it was all worth it, but we were super silly, y’all.

But now all that stuff that ooh’d and genuinely awed us is standard issue. So many people have smartphones that the New York Times actually thought it was news that a handful of contrarians choose not to join the fun. I wonder if they ran a similar article when that wacky Internet was all the rage. Remember that? I could Google it, but why bother?

What I’m trying to say is that unless the next iPhone is a G.D. spaceship, or transmogrifies the raw materials of the cosmos into Popeye’s famous popcorn shrimp, anything it brings to the table will likely be nothing new.

Will it have maps? Not Google Maps, which now runs offline on the SGS3, and all Android phones (lightning fast!). Will it have crazy good resolution? Likely. Retina? It would behoove them to do us the favor, but the SGS3 has an HD Super AMOLED (active-matrix organic light-emitting diode) screen which, at 4.8” feels a little bulky, but dang if that thing doesn’t look cleaner than Starbucks bathrooms in TriBeCa. Will it have Facebook? Instagram? Will it have…what? A camera? Will it have a phone?

It may be time to face the facts: the rest of the world may have caught up to the iPhone.

Now, I’ll say this, Samsung may have been being real smart and all, but they came super cocky with it. Not a good look, y’all. They seem to think that the coolest thing about the SGS3 is how easy it is to share pictures, music, or just any pseudo-tangible item made of up to 3GB worth of binary. Like, that is cool. Certainly. But it’s not easy. Not unless all your homies also have the SGS3, and even then it involves permissions and settings and really, nobody’s sweating that stuff when it’s already very easy to share electronic data without forcing friends to resent each other cause they had to buy the same phone (if you want to twist our skivvies, stick a USB on that doggie, dawg).

No. The coolest thing about the Samsung Galaxy S III isn’t htat it dims to save power when you look away from the screen, or that it’s got wild facial recognition capabilities, or that you can watch video on a pop-out player while multitasking. No. The coolest thing is TecTiles.

This: little squares about 1” x 1” or so that can be programed to activate whatever stuff on your phone. The example I keep seeing is that you can put one nightstand to activate your alarm just by placing your phone on the thing. But there’re tons of potential uses for these TecTile deals:

  • Put one: on the door and tap to open your subway app;
  • near the table and tap to open your morning news;
  • on your amp and set your phone down to open your guitar tuner;
  • bands should have one on the merch table so that fans can FB Like them
  • businesses might have one on the counter for a quick 4^2 check in;
  • put one on your wallet and tap your pocket to open your camera (HOT!)
  • etc. etc.

So, whatever, is the Samsung Galaxy S III going to be an ‘iPhone Killer’? Maybe not, but not for lack of guns. This little buddy is about as good as they get. If you’re looking to buy a phone this summer, it’s a good time to go Samsung. The Galaxy S III has everything you need, and a whole lot of stuff you probably won’t even know what to do with.

Follow me on Twitter @44carib

[Article written for and published by NYPress.com]

Let’s Build The Damn Enterprise!

At least one dude thinks we could. Some total random known only as BTE-Dan has put together a surprisingly large website detailing (really really detailing) what it would take to Build The Enterprise over the course of 20 years.

As BTE-Dan sees it, all the main technologies we’d need to construct a real life starship are pretty much at hand. Of course it would take scaling them up a bit. Like, way up. Like, to space. But, hey, even if we couldn’t figure out how to build huge ion propulsion engines or a 1.5 gigawatt nuclear reactor or a spinning disk with a diameter taller than the Burj Khalifa—ahem. Tallest building in the world—at least we put our minds to figuring out those limitations.

Aside from being the coolest franchise in television history Star Trek helped to inspire generations of engineers, scientists, inventors, and very cool bloggers to create the world we know today. There are a ton of gadgets that we use now that are as cool, if not cooler, than the stuff Kirk was using in the Original Series. Plus the things we have are often a lot more sensical and useful. See? Not to mention that we’re, like, two hundred years ahead of schedule on this stuff. Bam! Take that, ultra-skeptical 1960′s television writers. We win.

In the FAQ on his website, BTE-Dan, had this to say about it:

“If we want to define the greatness of our civilization mostly based on how we make transfer payments to each other through social programs, well, that sure doesn’t seem too inspiring. We need some other things to get jazzed up by as a civilization – something with a much bigger sweep – something to fire our imaginations. And we need something to inspire more young people to want to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics – the STEM subjects. We need a worthy successor to the Apollo space program – and the Enterprise program can be just that.”

The proposed budget for building this #ActualStarship is $1 trillion, but BTE-Dan figures we can stretch that out at some $50 billion per year. If we can spend $50 billion on wacky stuff like Homeland Security why not just throw in another 50 on building an amazingly radical spaceship? I’m down if you’re down. If we all lived like Luniz and just throw five bucks each on it, that’s already $1.5 billion. If we agree to five a week we’re already in (what I think smart money people mean when they say:) a windfall!

What’s up? Do you think we could build it? Is the idea just a huge crazy waste of brain time? Wouldn’t it be super awesome to have a U.S.S. Enterprise flying around out there? Either way. Check out the site. Obviously my thoughts are, in the words of BTE Dan: “This is super cool.”

Follow me on Twitter @44carib

[Article written for and published by NYPress.com]

Mindwave Mobile: Control Apps With Your Brain

It felt a little strange the first time I put it on. The battery pack on the headset was light as the single AAA inside, but its square weight ove my ear wasn’t, like, uncomfortable? Just maybe unnatural. Once I got the Neurosky Mindwave Mobile set up, though—and started controlling my computer with my brain—it was sort of very awesome. Actually kind of totally awesome.

The Mindwave Mobile is the first Brain Computer Interface (BCI) controller to work on Android and iOS as well as Mac and PC. Unlike the company’s previous first: The First Affordable BCI Headset, the $99 Mindwave, the Mobile version uses Bluetooth to wirelessly communicate with your computer. The active tech about it is a dry sensor that reads changes in the brain’s electrical activity like what’s up with Electroencephalograms (EEG). Traditional EEGs would need an electrically conducive goop smear where sensor meets scalp. Which, obviously, what a pain, right?

Right. Okay, so it’s easy—enough—to use. Even though sometimes it would slip on my head and whatever I’d been doing would be suddenly not done. And what was I doing, you ask? Well there’re a few games bundled up with the unit. A title called Zombie Pop was surprisingly fun. Basically one of those carnival games where you shoot water in a clown’s mouth till a balloon pops. Except you inexplicably work in some sort of Zombie factory, and they’re coming down a conveyor line, and instead of water you have to focus your brain might towards inflating their ugly green heads. When they get big enough you blink and a needles swings down and pops their heads like…like…like flesh balloons at a Zombie Carnival, I suppose.

No. It wouldn’t be fun save for the fact that—yes—the controls are your damn brain! WTF? The Mindwave Mobile reads two mental states, attentive or meditative, and eye blinks. So. If you can imagine if early Nintendo had first released a console whose controller was a d-pad with only two directions and then a single button, and you’re a game developer and they ask you to make a game and you’re, all, “Well, sure, man. I can make that game, but have y’all consid—” But they say just do it, and so you do, then now you understand the limitations of the games available for the Mindwave. Though it does sort of surprise me that no Pong clone is available yet. Since that’s probably exactly what our hypothetical game designer would have come out with.

Maybe the issue there is that switching your mental state isn’t so easy as thumbing a joystick. See, for me it was super easy to hit the ‘meditative’ state where you’re not quite focused on any one thing (this will come as no surprise to my teachers in elementary school), but, for my roommate who helped me test the headset, he could snap into ‘attentive’ no problem. The brief tutorial advised me to try thinking of song lyrics in my head so that I’d be focused on something. This works. But, of course, when one is thinking of lyrics one is not thinking about playing a game.

Even this petty hardship though has some benefit—and until some more engaging titles are dropped this might be the best justification for paying $130 for the Mindwave Mobile—because, when you actively switch your focus on and off with this sort of direct feedback over and over, it becomes easier to do each time. It really does. After a few sessions of Zombie Pop I no longer had to invoke Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now—the only song I could conjure at the time—and really started laying waste to some zombie domes, as though some stunted mental mage, with my brain forces alone.

Some developers have tried to exploit this direct feedback with educational apps—like Imagercize ($6), Math Trainer ($0), and Focus Pocus($149?!)—designed to help students understand what it feels like to be in their best mental state. The potential for this is great. Like, drop the Ritalin, kids. Learn to tighten your thinking caps instead.

If I were the future billionaire who figured out how to market BCI headsets like the Mindwave Mobile my calendar would be all power brunches with SAT prep centers. That’s what’s up.

Follow me on Twitter @44carib

[Article written for and published by NYPress.com]