Panomania!

I love shooting panoramic photographs. “Oh, he’s shooting another one of those panos,” was a common refrain from my mom while I was traveling with her through Cambodia recently. I’ve been doing it for years, ever since stitching photos together to make a pano was a largely manual, finicky process on a Mac. Check out this one of Main Street in Whitehorse, Yukon, from December 21, 1997.

Nowadays pretty much every camera and smartphone can automatically create panos. I mostly use my iPhone 5, which is capable of producing near-perfect panos no matter what. I also use a Google Nexus 4 which has a new feature called “Photo Sphere,” but that’s generally pretty hit and miss. But when it hits, the results can be spectacular. Just for fun, here are a few of my favourite panos that I’ve shot recently. Despite the technology, though, panos are extremely prone to error, which is one of the things I like about them. The visual aberrations often make for interesting results.

Find a Comfortable Seat for the Future

The surface of BRC Designs' Binary Chair is completely covered with a collage of motherboards, computer chips, lcd screens and hard drive disks held in place by sheet metal screws. The chair also has an interactive quality as the hard drive disks can be spun, the telephone keys and other buttons can be pressed, and the antennae raised and adjusted.Credit: Benjamin Caldwell, BRC Designs

The surface of BRC Designs’ Binary Chair is completely covered with a collage of motherboards, computer chips, lcd screens and hard drive disks held in place by sheet metal screws. The chair also has an interactive quality as the hard drive disks can be spun, the telephone keys and other buttons can be pressed, and the antennae raised and adjusted.
Credit: Benjamin Caldwell, BRC Designs

A couple of years ago Benjamin Caldwell of BRC Designs introduced us to his Binary Chairs.

Arguably more sculpture than furniture, they are constructed entirely of second-hand computer guts – things like circuit boards, CPUs, hard drives, wires and data ribbons. While the chairs are inexplicably beautiful they don’t look particularly comfortable.

The Binary Chairs are wonderfully emblematic of our modern world. Just as they are totally built of tech detritus, so is technology itself now built into everything. It’s naturally part of the daily fabric of our world.

And while that fine weave of life and technology can be a beautiful thing, it’s also full of jagged edges and unexpected sharp surfaces.

That harmonious conflict between humanity and technology will be under the microscope at an important conference in Toronto this June.

The 2013 IEEE International Symposium on Technology and Society will address “the social implications of wearable technology and augmediated reality in everyday life.”

Holy crap, sorry, that was a mouthful. So I’ll just paraphrase it a bit: as technology integrates itself ever deeper into our lives and alters our view of reality itself, how do we adapt to it and manage its effects?

Let’s start investigating that question with something familiar: the smartphone. Continue reading

Adveillance. Or, Trading Your Life for Glass

Surveillance, according to Wikipedia, is “the monitoring of the behavior, activities, or other changing information, usually of people for the purpose of influencing, managing, directing, or protecting.”

We’re almost used to it now. We seem to accept the fact that everything we do is captured and stored by some mysterious third party for review and sharing at some future date.

Consider then, sousveillance, which is defined at Wikipedia as “the recording of an activity by a participant in the activity,” typically by means of a wearable computer or video recorder.

The phrase sousveillance was coined by Stephen Mann, a University of Toronto professor who has in fact been practicing it for nigh on 3 decades using one form or other of homemade device.

Then there’s mcveillance, a term that describes (again, according to Wikipedia), “the ratio (linearly) or difference (logarithmically) of surveillance to sousveillance”. In other words, it’s where sousveillance and surveillance meet in conflict. We have this term thanks to Mann’s son who invented it after he watched his father get kicked out of a McDonald’s restaurant for practicing sousveillance in a strictly surveillance-only zone.

What about when sousveillance and surveillance meet on friendlier terms? Enter Google Glass, an unabashed rip off of Mann’s inventions. It enables the average consumer – or at least those of us willing to fork over $1000+ for half a pair of glasses – to practice sousveillance. But it’s a Google device so, just as with the other horses in that company’s stable, your every move is also being collected and analyzed for resale as ad fodder. In other words, you’re volunteering yourself for real-time, personal surveillance.

But everybody’s happy, right? So there, at the other end of the spectrum from mcveillance we have “adveillance“. You really have to wonder who’s getting the better half of that deal, though.

Ta Prohm at Angkor Watt, Cambodia

Last month I traveled to Cambodia with my son and mom. One of the places we visited was Ta Prohm, an ancient temple that’s slowly disintegrating back into the jungle, despite the best efforts of preservationists.

New Devices Have a Lot of zzzz Power

There’s an unfortunate cultural problem with RIM’s new handset,  the Z10: is it a “zed-ten” or a “zee-ten”? RIM is a Canadian company, after all, so one would assume the former. But it’s also desperate for the White House’s business, and can you imagine President Obama ever uttering the syllable, “zed”?

Another company that’s latched onto the lame brained Z-letter bandwagon is Sony.  It’s latest and greatest handset is the Xperia Z.

You’d think two companies arguably on their last legs in the mobile business would more carefully consider the names of the devices that represent their final stab at credibility.

Never mind the fact that there are varied pronunciations for the letter Z around the world. Z is the end of the alphabet, and it’s just too rich not to draw analogies to these Z-letter devices being the” last chapter” of companies like RIM and Sony, considering their precarious states.

Perhaps most fittingly,  however is how that choice letter might be used to described these devices beyond their formal names:

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

The marketing folks at RIM and Sony really didn’t think this one through, did they?

Politics and Technology Don’t Mix

Modern governance depends on the separation of church and state. Religious ideology must not influence public policy. It’s time for a similar concept in the world of technology. Companies need to separate corporate politics from their technical products.

The simplest example of this is a loathing shared by both Apple and Microsoft for Google. Instead of addressing the technical and business challenges presented by Google head on, the two older firms seem to prefer to pretend that the younger upstart just doesn’t exist. It’s that old ears-plugged, nah-nah-nah-nah-I-can’t-hear-you mentality.

For example, Apple and Microsoft have integrated the arguably non-competitive social media environments Twitter, Facebook and Flickr into their various technical platforms, but chosen to exclude Google Plus. You can’t share a photo directly to Google Plus (aka Picasa) from Apple’s iPhoto or the new Windows 8 Photos app, but you can to Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr. You can’t share content to Google Plus from iOS or Windows Phone, but you can to Facebook and Twitter. On all of Apple’s and Microsoft’s platforms it’s very difficult if not impossible to alter this behaviour.

Why? It’s simple: Apple and Microsoft hate Google. Like, hate hate. The many conflicts they have with this company are clouding their judgement. Their shared hatred is preventing them from thinking clearly and playing fair. In short, the political views of these corporations trump the interests of their customers. It’s too bad, because in many cases the services Google offers are superior to those offered by Facebook, Twitter and Flickr.

It comes as no surprise then that Google generally (naively?) takes the complete opposite approach. It is the anti-political company (consider the fact that Eric Schmidt just visited North Korea for a brazen example of the company’s complete lack of political sensibility). On Google’s platforms you’re free to share your stuff wherever you want (though Google Plus is the preferred destination, of course). If your sharing options aren’t available, Google’s stuff is designed to be hacked to satisfy your geek-heart’s desire.

In many other ways, though, Apple’s and Microsoft’s platforms are vastly superior to Google’s. It’s no small irony then that if those two companies could just learn to relax their politics they’d likely trounce their rival in short order. Instead, the laissez faire Google is eating their lunch by catering to customer interests, regardless of executive political conflicts.

To paraphrase Robert Browning, “Google’s in its Internet: All’s right with the world.”

The Petrified Apple

The other day I got really excited because Apple released updates to Pages and Numbers for iOS. I checked out the version update notes and was sorely disappointed: bug fixes.

Then I started to think how pathetic is was to get excited about minor updates to Apple's apps. But, really, no wonder I got excited. There's been nothing truly new from Apple in, like, forever. And that's when it hit me: Apple is petrified. The company is in some sort of state of post-Jobs paralysis where it sort of puts on a brave face and carries on, but at the same time it's too afraid to try anything new.

I got an image in my head of a young boy standing at the edge of a pool. He's wearing his bathing suit, but his skin and hair are dry. He's looking at the water, considering diving in. People around him are coaxing and encouraging him to swim. “He was such a strong swimmer,” they're all thinking. “But ever since his father died, he's been afraid to get back in the water.”

To me, that boy is Apple, too afraid to dive back.

Which is sad, really. I read a blog post recently about the rules of character building in Pixar movies. Rule number one had something to do with admiring characters for their willingness to try, regardless of their ultimate success of failure. I sure would like to see Apple try something – anything – new.

As it stands, though, Apple seems petrified, physically unable to dive back in to the water.

As Computers Disappear, New Challenges Come Into View

Sometime this year Google will usher in a new technological era when the company releases its first “wearable computer,” called Glass.

Glass is basically half a pair of eyeglasses with a camera glued on. It’s connected wirelessly to the internet via a smartphone. And you’re supposed to wear it all the time.

It alters its wearer’s relationship to reality by augmenting – or *adding* – information overlays to the field of view.

Imagine you’re walking through a zoo. Glass could display information about the animals as you look at them.

It also enables voice-controlled video collection, social media publishing, and even real-time internet broadcasting.

It will work with Android devices and iPhones.

Now I’m not saying that Glass is going to be anything great in and of itself.

It’s not even anything new, really. Canadian computer scientist and University of Toronto professor Steven Mann invented and was wearing a near-identical device called the EyeTap over 20 years ago.

The important thing about Glass is simply that it will be sold commercially on the mass market. Continue reading