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We’re on the road to Mars!

Wednesday, 7 February, 2018 0 Comments

We will look back and marvel at what Elon Musk did yesterday. In short, his SpaceX company successfully launched the most powerful rocket in the world into space. And this was done by a private business at a fraction of a cost of other systems currently being built. SpaceX claims that Falcon Heavy launches will cost about $90 million per flight, while NASA, which is working on its own heavy launch system, called the SLS, estimates it could cost about a billion dollars per flight. But the icing on the cake is that the notion of re-landing reusable rockets, which seemed like science fiction a decade ago, is now reality. SpaceX regularly lands rockets back on land or on a drone ship in the Atlantic. Yesterday, it landed two Falcon 9 rockets simultaneously, each dropping elegantly from the sky with a majestic controlled burn.

Elon Musk is making the future great again. We’re on the way to Mars!


Goat simulator acquired by Coffee Stain

Monday, 5 February, 2018 0 Comments

Yes. That’s a real English-language headline: “Goat simulator acquired by Coffee Stain”. A decade ago, it wouldn’t have been possible to write it and even today 99 percent of those who understand its six English words have no idea of what it all means. So what’s it about, then? Here goes:

“Goat Simulator is an open-ended third-person perspective game in which the player controls a goat. The player is free to explore the game’s world, a suburban setting, as a goat, and jump, run, bash things, and lick objects. Licking objects attaches the goat’s tongue to the object and lets the player drag the object around until they let go. At any time, the player can let the goat drop into a ragdoll model, allowing the game’s physics to take over.”

This is 2018, after all.

Anyway, up Scandinavia way last week up, Swedish game maker Coffee Stain Studios, based in Skövde, acquired a majority stake in the Stockholm-based Gone North Games, the makers of such hit mobile games as Goat Z and Goat Simulator: Waste of Space.

This is 2018, after all. And Goat Z is a goat simulator, not a goat stimulator, by the way.


Depressed? Put on this headset, please

Monday, 29 January, 2018 0 Comments

David Foster Wallace: “The cruel thing with depression is that it’s such a self-centered illness. Dostoevsky shows that pretty good in his Notes from Underground. The depression is painful, you’re sapped/consumed by yourself; the worse the depression, the more you just think about yourself and the stranger and repellent you appear to others.”

Could a brain stimulation headset offer humane treatment for the disease that led David Foster Wallace to kill himself? Might it, at least, be an alternative to the dreaded opioid medication? Flow Neuroscience from Sweden claims its headset can stimulate and change the brain’s neuronal activity using tDCS (transcranial direct current stimulation), and a related app that advises the user on eating, sleeping and exercising routines will provide holistic backup.

With 21 million people in Europe suffering from major depressive disorder, the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme is on board and Flow Neuroscience recently announced a funding round of $1.1 million from Khosla Ventures, SOSV and Daniel Andersson.

If the depression epidemic can be addressed with a solution that’s safe, effective, medication-free and designed for use at home, great benefits might flow to sufferers, who would experience a huge quality-of-life improvement as a result. And great benefits might flow, too, to those VCs who have placed their bets on Flow Neuroscience.

Flow

Sylvia Plath: “It seemed silly to wash one day when I would only have to wash again the next. It made me tired just to think of it.”


Sting warned us about Google

Friday, 26 January, 2018 0 Comments

If you’re using an Android phone, Google may be tracking every move you make:

“The Alphabet subsidiary’s location-hungry tentacles are quietly lurking behind some of the most innovative features of its Android mobile operating system. Once those tentacles latch on, phones using Android begin silently transmitting data back to the servers of Google, including everything from GPS coordinates to nearby wifi networks, barometric pressure, and even a guess at the phone-holder’s current activity. Although the product behind those transmissions is opt-in, for Android users it can be hard to avoid and even harder to understand.”

So writes David Yanofsky in Quartz. And, as Sting sang during the last century:

Every single day
Every word you say
Every game you play
Every night you stay
I’ll be watching you

Back now to David Yanofsky:

“As a result, Google holds more extensive data on Android users than some ever realize. That data can be used by the company to sell targeted advertising. It can also be used to track into stores those consumers who saw ads on their phone or computer urging them to visit. This also means governments and courts can request the detailed data on an individual’s whereabouts.”

Back now to Sting:

Every move you make
Every vow you break
Every smile you fake
Every claim you stake
I’ll be watching you

David Yanofsky again:

“While you’ve probably never heard of it, ‘Location History’ is a longtime Google product with origins in the now-defunct Google Latitude. (Launched in 2009, that app allowed users to constantly broadcast their location to friends.) Today, Location History is used to power features like traffic predictions and restaurant recommendations. While it is not enabled on an Android phone by default — or even suggested to be turned on when setting up a new phone — activating Location History is subtly baked into setup for apps like Google Maps, Photos, the Google Assistant, and the primary Google app. In testing multiple phones, Quartz found that none of those apps use the same language to describe what happens when Location History is enabled, and none explicitly indicate that activation will allow every Google app, not just the one seeking permission, to access Location History data.

Sting was way ahead of his time:

Every breath you take
Every move you make
Every bond you break
Every step you take
I’ll be watching you

Note: Every Breath You Take appeared on the 1983 Police album Synchronicity. Written by Sting, the single was the biggest US and UK hit of 1983, topping the UK singles chart for four weeks and the US Billboard Hot 100 singles chart for eight weeks. And it remains a winner. In October last year, the song was featured at the end of Season 2 of the Netflix thriller Stranger Things and it also appears on the Sony Music soundtrack of songs used in both Seasons 1 and 2.


The Morozov File

Monday, 22 January, 2018 0 Comments

Ever since the great media theorist Marshall McLuhan died in 1980, the search has been on to find a worthy successor. Many have been called but all have failed. Some lacked his intellect, most couldn’t match his wit. For a while it looked as if Neil Postman would carry the torch, but he never said anything as memorable as “the medium is the message.” The latest contender is Evgeny Morozov, who was born in 1984 in Soligorsk, a hideous city in Belarus created by the Soviet tyranny in 1958. Naturally, Morozov fled the ghastly Belarus for the freedom of the USA and there he morphed into a media theorist.

Morozov is very much in touch with the Zeitgeist as his McLuhanian formulations shows. Examples: “data extractivism”, “algorithmic consensus” and “predatory emancipation”. Here’s now he threads this jargon together:

“Any effort to understand why the intensification of the regime of data extractivism has failed to generate widespread discontent has to grapple with the ideological allure of Silicon Valley. Here one can also detect a certain logic at play — a logic of what I call ‘predatory emancipation.’ The paradox at the heart of this model is that we become more and more entangled into political and economic webs spun by these firms even as they deliver on a set of earlier emancipatory promises. They do offer us a modicum of freedom —but it only comes at the cost of greater slavery.”

Evgeny Morozov That’s from a paper he wrote for a Strasbourg quango called the Council of Europe titled DIGITAL INTERMEDIATION OF EVERYTHING: AT THE INTERSECTION OF POLITICS, TECHNOLOGY AND FINANCE (PDF 401KB). It’s turgid stuff, but it goes down well in Europe, especially in Germany, a major funder of Morozovian output, as his dissing of Silicon Valley and his critiques of capitalism is music to the ears of an elite anti-American clique in German media. And, in fact, Morozovian English sounds at times like machine-translated German:

“We are moving towards the model of ‘benevolent feudalism’ — where a number of big industrial and, in our case, post-industrial grants take on the responsibilities of care and welfare — that was postulated by some analysts at the beginning of the 20th century as the future of industrial capitalism as such. It took an extra century to arrive at this vision but any sober analysis of the current situation should dispense with the ‘benevolent’ part of the term and engage much deeper with its ‘feudalism’ part: just because power is exercised upon us differently than in the good old days when the capitalist mode of production ruled supreme and unchallenged does not mean that we are ever more emancipated. After all, plenty of slaveholders in the American South argued that slavery, too, was a much more humane system than capitalism.”

Morozov is no McLuhan but he’s trousering lots of euros for his gadfly vexatiousness. In the end, he’ll turn it into an academic act powered by a Harvard doctorate and tenure will, inevitably, soften his rage against the machine. It’s a long way from Soligorsk to Sunnyvale and although Evgeny Morozov will never publicly thank Silicon Valley for his success, he must, secretly, be grateful for its existence. As Marshall McLuhan once said, “Art is anything you can get away with.”


One channel to rule them all

Monday, 4 December, 2017 0 Comments

As J.R.R. Tolkien fans know, the One Ring is the central plot element in his masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings. It’s got a malevolent power, this ring, which is not surprising as it was created by Sauron as part of his plan to conquer Middle-earth. The words inscribed on the Ring were uttered by the Dark Lord himself as he forged it:

“One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them”

There is no parallel to be drawn between YouTube and the One Ring, of course, but it has turned into the internet for video content from Middle-earth. All the big players publish on Google’s channel: Amazon is there, so is Microsoft, so is Twitter, so is Facebook and Apple has now bowed to reality.

“Someone else always has to carry on the story.” — J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings


Tesla’s Burning

Friday, 24 November, 2017 0 Comments

Could be the hot title of a film, that, Tesla’s Burning. You know, in the style of Paris is Burning and Mississippi Burning. Not to forget Burn After Reading and, the very topical right now, Burn Hollywood Burn.

But this is a very different script and the full title goes: Tesla’s Burning Through Nearly Half a Million Dollars Every Hour. This is a Bloomberg production and here’s a sneak preview:

“Over the past 12 months, the electric-car maker has been burning money at a clip of about $8,000 a minute (or $480,000 an hour), Bloomberg data show. At this pace, the company is on track to exhaust its current cash pile on Monday, Aug. 6. (At 2:17 a.m. New York time, if you really want to be precise.)

To be fair, few Tesla watchers expect the cash burn to continue at quite such a breakneck pace, and the company itself says it’s ramping up output of its all-important Model 3, which will bring money in the door. Investors don’t seem concerned. Tesla shares rose almost 3 percent to $317.81 Tuesday, giving it a market capitalization of $53 billion. Ford Motor Co. is worth $48 billion.”

The “Monday, Aug. 6.” referred to there, by the way, is August 2018. So will this drama end next year? Well, the wily Elon Musk is always good for a surprise twist and last week he unveiled his latest plan to raise funds. The Tesla CEO is asking customers to pay him upfront for vehicles that may not be delivered for years yet. It’s an old trick, that, but it has worked in the past. Taking In Huge Deposits to Help Fund Tesla Through its Immense Production Challenges is not a very catchy title, but it’s far less scary than Tesla’s Burning. To be continued.


From Kathmandu to Paris, the selfie

Thursday, 9 November, 2017 0 Comments

Sometimes, a headline is more baffling than illuminating. Example: “Oppo to launch selfie expert F5 in Nepal”. Oppo? And who is the “selfie expert” known cryptically as “F5”?

It helps if one knows that OPPO Electronics Corp. is a Chinese electronics firm based in Guangdong that’s intent on grabbing a share of the Asian smartphone market, and its new F5 model is being marketed as the device that “takes camera phones to the next generation.” Then there’s this: “It defies the paradox of marrying Artificial Intelligence technology with organic beauty to create the most natural and stunning of selfies.” How does it do that? Time to revisit our headline about Oppo, the F5 and Nepal. It’s from the Kathmandu Post and, quoting from the press release, the writer notes that “the AI will utilise information from a massive global photo database to beautify a selfie shot taken by the Oppo F5.” Is that “massive global photo database” Getty? Or is it a Chinese venture using surveillance photos for commercial purposes? There’s a story there.

Meanwhile, London-based creative Daniel McKee notes that more than six million people visit the Mona Lisa at the Louvre each year and “Many share their visit on social media.” Using images found on Instagram, he created this:


Information I need to remember

Tuesday, 7 November, 2017 1 Comment

Ben Bajarin, who describes himself as a “Student of the intersection of human behavior and technology,” focuses on global consumer technology at Creative Strategies in Silicon Valley. From his firm’s smartphone photography study on the things people like to snap, “Information I need to remember” is impressively popular. The smartphone has become an extension of human memory.

smartphones


Employee Nr. 7 saves the day

Friday, 13 October, 2017 0 Comments

One of Tesla’s earliest challenges involved the thousands of lithium-­ion batteries the company intended to pack into its e-sports car, the Roadster, which was produced from 2008 to 2012. Problem: They caught fire embarrassingly often. Enter Gene Berdichevsky, employee No. 7. He helped solve the issue using a mix of heat transfer materials, cooling channels and battery arrangements that ensured any fire would be self-contained.

Berdichevsky has now co-founded Sila Nanotechnologies, which aims to make better lithium-ion batteries using silicon-based nanoparticles. Silicon has almost 10 times the theoretical capacity of the material most often used in lithium-ion batteries, but it tends to expand during charging, causing damage. Sila’s particles, however, are porous enough to accommodate that expansion, offering the promise of longer-lasting batteries. Lucky Nr. 7 saves the day again.

Sila


Inside Tesla

Thursday, 12 October, 2017 0 Comments

“My proceeds from PayPal were $180m. I put $100m in SpaceX, $70m in Tesla and $10m in Solar City. I had to borrow money for rent.” — Elon Musk

Tesla

Five links…