Siri and my car: When a new tech highlights limitation of old tech

icon_siriI’ve had a iPhone for a few years now and am definitely a heavy Siri user. I’ve learned her way, how to speak with her, and get her to do the things I need her to do (for the most part – I still can’t seem to get her to schedule anything in my calendar).

I also use Siri when I can’t access the phone, such as when running or when driving.

When I’m running, I have the Apple headset and Siri works perhaps even better than without a headset.

But when I’m the car, Siri can be quite frustrating. Y’see, the microphone in the car was never designed for voice recognition.

Unless you played with editing audio or perhaps were into computer telephony, you might not realize that not all audio channels are the same. Or perhaps you  have – the degraded sound quality on radio talk shows is due to the telephone not delivering a broad enough bandwidth to deliver good sound. Indeed, the standard phone system was designed to carry the minimum amount of sound to be intelligible.

When Skype came out, folks were shocked at the sound quality – Skype was sending the maximum bandwidth to provide the best sound possible.

Back to my car
My car microphone seems to also be designed to provide the minimum bandwidth necessary for a phone call. It doesn’t try to be the best microphone because the phone system has such narrow bandwidth. Hence, when I use it, it’s quite difficult for Siri to understand me.

So my suggestion to car manufacturers: Siri (and Google Now and Cortana) need excellent sound input to optimally work. DON’T SKIMP ON CAR MICROPHONES!

Any body else want to weigh in?

Posting mobile photos like it’s 2005

I haven’t looked at my Lifeblog archive in a long time. Without the software, it’s just a deep tree of folders holding all sorts of media over many years.

For some reason, last night, I took a peek, flipping through old photos and text messages from another time. Sigh, that Nokia is no more.

But I found some screen shots (with a date and URL) of how we would post from Lifeblog.

Blogging from my phone
I don’t want to go into the interesting origin story of Lifeblog and my brief time with it, but, as the name suggests, blogging was a key feature. And not just any blogging, blogging from the phone.

Before Lifeblog, there were some hacks to get photos online. But with Lifeblog, or so it became, it was easy to compose a photo-centric post from your phone (thanks to the genius of the engineers on our team and at Six Apart). The Six Apart folks even made cool templates to showcase the photo posts.

Screen shots!

And in case you’re wondering, here’s what’s left of the post, the template long lost after many digital migrations.

A trip to the archives
These images were used to teach folks how to post. And there was also a post to teach folks how to put their settings in. How quaint!

What a time! As a team, we were breaking all sorts of ground. It was the closest I got to start-up mentality at Nokia.

Alas, Lifeblog never reached it’s potential, never got fully baked, faded away in neglect.

And folks like Apple and Instagram made it all look new again.

[Now back to my therapist after opening up these and a ton of related old cobwebbed memories I should know better than to disturb.]

Image from the launch website (found in this post of mine)

What to do with so many layers of technological sediment?

junkheapMuch to my wife’s frustration, I have a habit of holding on to old tech.

So what’s in my basement?

Computers
A 1987 Mac II (16-bit 68020 chip!) with a 40MB drive and 5MB RAM (yes, I bought an extra 4MB). It also has a 8-bit card (color!) for the 8-bit Mac Monitor I have as well. Alas, the Laser Printer disappeared. I think my wife “quietly” discarded it (that mo’fo’ was heavy!).

An old Syquest drive – for huge 45MB disks. SCSI, too. [I think I have a Zip drive down there as well.]

I have two 1997 MacBook 3200c laptops. Color, 2GB drive, and a trackpad that is better than anything Toshiba or Lenovo have created since. I think I still have the Zip expansion cartridge for one of them.

I have a 1999 Blueberry iMac. It was our first DVD player and we watched movies on the 13″ screen for years.

Somehow I ended up with a Tangerine iBook, the one with the handle and scallop shape. What was Apple smoking?

The last of the inactive computers is a busted up MacBook G5.

Counting as a living fossil, my daughter uses my old 2007 MacBook, Black, 13″, every day. Yes, she’ll get a new one – in about 18 months, when she’s almost done with high school.

Electronics
Last time I organized things, I also found a bunch of different generation of digital cameras, starting with the QuickTake from 1997, through various megapixels – 1.x, 2.x, 3.x. I also have a camcorder from 1995 – yes, tape!

Landfill?
I’d been thinking of what to do with all of this. It’s be a shame to landfill them like Atari did (read this great story for the reference).

But at the same time I do not think any of it has any significance or that there are collectors looking for such forgotten tech.

What do you do with all your old tech? Do you hold on to it? Bin it? Find a needy historical museum?

Image from article on Atari dump archeology

PS I also have a ’86 Benz that is ready for the scrap heap. As you can tell, “what to do with old stuff” is on my mind!

Pause for station identification

11316234075_1793c8fbb0_zTime for my periodic pause for station identification.

Me
Hello, folks. My name is Charlie Schick. I am Director, Business Development, Healthcare, at Atigeo. I just started at Atigeo (June 2014) and am excited to help them take their xPatterns Platform to the next level. My move to Atigeo is very much a “money where your mouth is” kinda move. I’ve known these folks and their product for a while and now want to get more deeply involved.

Prior to that, I was a sales consultant with IBM, using my industry expertise to talk science and healthcare and cavort with care providers and research scientists, all while working for an amazing tech leader. And prior to that I worked at Boston Children’s Hospital, and at Nokia, in Finland.

I also advise healthcare start-ups on mobile, marketing, and analytics. If you’re interested in knowing more about this, feel free to invite me to lunch or beer.

Practical microbiology (and then some)
Throughout my life, I have dabbled in many things – building things from bio-molecules to web publications to communities. I am always happy getting deep into the tech (bio or otherwise) and getting my hands dirty and tinkering. In the past few years, I’ve returned to my first love – biology – and have been studying the practical uses of microbiology, such as probiotics, functional foods, physiology, and the like (just see the things I’ve been posting and commenting on here on this site and on Twitter).

My latest kick is 1 gal brewing to rapidly iterate recipes.

Thinking and speaking
Alas, I have a wide range of interests (see my About page) and I have a very active family, so I’m more of a thinker than a doer. I suppose one day I’ll pair with the right doer for my thinking and we’ll have a blast. Until then, I’ll keep writing and fermenting foods.

Also, as a recognized thought leader, I convert complex concepts into easily understandable stories. And I regularly unfold these stories in front of large audiences, through various forms of media and design, and in the office of CxOs. Send me a note if you want to know more.

And of course, my standard disclaimer (riffing off of Cringley)
Everything I write here on this site is an expression of my own opinions, NOT of my employer, Atigeo. If these were the opinions of Atigeo, the site would be called ‘Atigeo something’ and, for sure, the writing and design would be much more professional. Likewise, I am an intensely trained professional writer :-P, so don’t expect to find any confidential secret corporate mumbo-jumbo being revealed here. Everything I write here is public info or readily found via any decent search engine or easily deduced by someone who has an understanding of the industry.

If you have ideas that you think I might be interested in please contact me, Charlie Schick, at firstname.lastname@atigeo.com, for Atigeo-related matters; via my profile on LinkedIn; or via @molecularist on Twitter.

TV: Morsels vs Streams

For a long time I’ve been thinking about the morselization of the web – the break down of the mogul-minded content consumption of the early media world into the fragmentation of our media experience of the last decade.

When I lived in Finland, I mostly did not have a TV (only had it for FIFA World Cup games), listened to radio only in the car, subscribed to the Economist (only print pub I read), rented movies from a store and then from iTunes, was very much online for news and connections to friends and family. So, by nature, my interaction with media was fragmented, episodic.

When I returned to the US, the change to this mix was that I signed up for cable (for sports and Comedy Central, mostly), but insisted on a DVR. This meant that our interaction with TV continued to be in morsels selected and controlled by me and on my time.

Continuous drivel
Needless to say, with so many years away from old skool TV, I no longer have the complacency to let TV producers decide when I should watch something (though I am forgiving of sports broadcasts).

And what really bugs me are the all-day news programs, like CNN or CNBC, who need to fill huge chunks of hours (up to the max 1440 minutes, even) of streaming video with something. Anything.

Visiting my parents is frustrating, as my father is wedded to his news shows, starting at 4pm going to midnight. As my mother says, “When it comes to ‘Last word with Lawrence O’Donnell,’ his last word should just be ‘Good night’ as everything that can be said has already been said.”

My father loves to visit me, though: he can watch his programs when he wants to and we can pause and discuss what’s been said, fast forward through commercials, even rewind to hear commentary again. He gets it that the experience is his to choose.

Airports, the last bastion of CNN
CNN is the offender that I keep coming back to. After years of feeding the beast, the best they can offer is vapid commentary. What could fit in an hour gets extended to the whole day. And it is delivered as if there is always someone watching.*

Wrong.

The future of TV is on-demand, morsels, episodic viewing.

Netflix has it right – just release the whole season at once and let folks decide how to watch it – either 22 episodes at a go, or over man weeks, or next year. Oh, and you didn’t miss anything of the first season, just watch it before you start the second season. YOU are in control!

The realization
The whole point of this brain wave was not to state the obvious: The future of TV is on-demand, morsels, episodic viewing. But, I couldn’t figure out why TV like CNN and the evening news have been bugging me.

They bug me because their content and delivery are premised that we are passive consumers of a continuous stream of video that we need to adjust our lives to.

Nope, we are in control, get to decide what we want and when and how.

CNN will remain the butt of Jon Stewart’s jokes for as long as the ignore this.

Thoughts?

 

*My daughter was telling me last night that at the Correspondent’s Dinner, Obama cracked a joke that MSNBC (or was it CNN?) was overwhelmed with the audience at the Dinner, as it was the largest audience they’ve ever seen. Good one.

 

Frak. The car stopped.

dogs and carsI grew up in Brasil, so it was normal to be driving up in the hills of Rio and have a dog jump out and chase our car.

Being teens, we’d just stop the car and the dog would stop and not know what to do and just walk away.

We laughed like we were the most clever boys in town.

Well, this applies to all of us: We work hard, chasing something we think we are big enough to tackle.

Then the car stops.

Now what?

Yeah, me. Today.

Lessee.

 

Image from S Carter

Oral culture: Snapchat, deleting streams, and, now, Banter

Banter_appI have two teens and it has been fascinating to see how they approach the permanence of text and images.

The digitization of the world has challenged how we keep things – partly due to format changes, partly due to the ability to save everything.

Until you’ve had a catastrophe that makes you lose years of digital assets, you likely want to have everything you ever tweeted, written, or photographed kept somewhere and backed-up ad infinitum.

But watching today’s youth, who regularly scrub their social streams, delete texts off their phones, and gravitate towards Snapchat, there is no need for permanence in their conversations (there might even be an intented impermanence).

And why should there be permanence? When we talk face to face, no one is recording the conversation for posterity. That the medium is text or photos does not require the conversations to be permanent. That the medium is text does not necessarily make the conversations “literate” as opposed to “oral” – “oral,” to me, meaning, basically, not permanent, but passed from interlocutor to interlocutor.

My trigger today to bring this up here* is an article in The Verge about Banter, a chat app with chat rooms (like Internet 0.0), but where the conversations is gone after 24 hours. As The Verge says, “When nothing you say lasts forever, the dynamic changes.

For all its clarity of purpose, however, Banter hardly feels like a focused app. It has private and group messaging, a terribly overwhelming stream view, location-based chat, and is full of goofy (and occasionally explicit) pictures. It’s easy to categorize it as Twitter meets GroupMe meets Snapchat meets Highlight meets WhatsApp meets the weirdest chat rooms from 1995, wrapped in a chat bubble and splashed on a polygonal background. It seems like the ultimate SXSW app, an almost cynical response to the success stories of years past.

Our ability to document and preserve everything we do or say is only getting better (can you say “Glass”?). But at the same time, do we have to? In typical “bibliophile” fashion, I wonder what hit our society takes when we let words and images vanish. Taking the “oralist” view, what is best shared from people to people without a permanent object?

Thoughts?

 

* I do bring, though, bring up the move to an oral culture in “oral” conversation

Image via The Verge

Breaking free of activity monitors: affective wearables, digital pheromones, and emotional mapping

taptapChristine Lemke posted a collection of links to wrist gadgets, which triggered a conversation between us on Twitter.

The list had your usual (yawn) suspects, such as FitBit, Jawbone, Basis, and Misfit. It also had the sports players such as Adidas, Reebok (also part of Adidas), Garmin, and Nike (all of these companies, I claim, have been in this wearable business longer than the current darlings in the previous sentence).

But two devices stuck out – Bond and TapTap.

Touch me
I am kinda tired of all these activity sensors that measure activity, sweat, location, acceleration, and so forth. Activity measurement is only scraping the surface. There are so many other ways sensors can enrich our awareness of our surroundings, ourselves, and our social networks.

When I was at Nokia, I was surrounded by these really smart interaction designers. We used to think of all the ways mobile and the internet could come together to enrich our lives (we use to ask “How does our second life [the digital life] enrich our first life [our physical, face-to-face life]).

Ambient and affective
One interesting area for us in those days was about tactile connection at a distance. Hence the two touch devices in Christine’s list are worth noting. They buck the pattern of traditional activity monitors. As Christine says, “Those [tactile connection devices] will likely be far more compelling applications to consumers.”

Christine brought up the Nabaztag, a curious bunny-looking device that could respond in some set ways (glow, move ears, make a noise) based on any digital input. Such “ambient computing” devices could be used to display activity inputs from another person. What happens now when wrist gadgets help us keep ambient awareness of other machines or people?

Achivemint, an activity tracking platform Christine co-founded, uses behavioural analysis to “nudge” folks to better activity choices, better health.

How might such affective wearables*, that tap into more than just activity, enhance Achivemint nudges? How do we go beyond the simple activity trackers to understand patterns of social connections, emotions, empathy? How does this action at a distance bring us closer to one another?

What’s the question?
Folks are chasing the activity sensors because they’re easy – cheap sensors, market awareness, simple algorithms. These gadgets are answering the question of “How active are you?”. And they’re trying to base all our analyses on that.

But the real question is when you step back and ask, “What can we do with sensors and connected devices that can enhance our lives?” To me, that’s the promise of wearable tech (and mobile devices, in general – which is where I’m coming from).

Let’s not get stuck inventing yet another activity tracking device. I want social connection trackers, emotional mappers (see Bond), psyche diviners, digital pheromones. Indeed, when we first started fusing the social web with mobiles, way back when, it was the emotional connection (dare I say, connecting people?) that drove us, not self quantifying.

C’mon, folks. We can do so much better.

Digital Pheromones

Her presence permeated the ordinary,
Lighting our pockets along the way.
We smile, and miss her.
With a sniff of sadness,
She knows we are here.

by: Phil, Riitta, Timo, and Charlie
Espoo – 31jan07

poem back story

*To quote the affective computing group at MIT: “Affective Computing is computing that relates to, arises from, or deliberately influences emotion or other affective phenomena.”

Image from TapTap, which did not make its Kickstart funding goal.

TSA and faux terror theatre

image132.jpgDisclaimer: My family has a long history living in, speaking out against, and escaping trouble from totalitarian governments. So, please understand that I have a terrible allergy towards anything that smacks of police-state bullshit.

They’re Such Asses – shoes set me off
I’ve always called TSA “Faux Terror Theatre”. Looking back at my posts, those times I was ticked off enough to write about, it seems to have started when we were required to take off our shoes.

“What’s with the shoes?” is dated March 2004. The previous two years or so were the start of Bush’s (or should I say, Cheney’s?) “war on terror” and locking down legal and societal tools to make it look like the government was on top of things. Do you remember the red-orange-green status? How about comments that “if you talk against the government, you are unpatriotic”? Indeed, these insidious fear-mongering tactics have poisoned american political discourse to this day.

And I knew it would. Such things are easy to deploy, hard to remove (shame on you Obama).

To this day, it bugs the krap out of me when the PA systems bellow “See something, say something.” That’s so “Nineteen Eighty-Four” (which one day, in fit of rage at the airport, I bought, to read and remember). These “Words of Warning” on fearsome signs everywhere, also do not help.

In(s)anity
But the shoes seemed inane enough for me to step up and call out the baloney the TSA was perpetrating. Not only did it push me to rant, twice (“Airports, shoes, and a horribly screwed up emerging police state”, “I repeat myself“), while at the airport, using only a mobile phone (ouch, thumbs), but also drove me to apologize to the rest of the world (which I still do when I note stupid US security procedures forced upon foreign governments).

All this finally culminated in me writing a short story on where this is all leading. Do read it (“So it’s come to this”).

Baah baah we sheep
While the last post I can find on this blog was in 2006 (“What price Security?“), I do know I have continued ranting on Twitter (I can’t seem to find those easily today). I’ve noticed that the TSA has become more “normal”, as in, we have accepted the dysfunction and faux theatre like sheep. And I’m part of that, sadly, as well: I spent a long time trying to evade the full-body scanners, only to finally give up as everyone now needs to go through it.

I’m not alone!
And where did this whole rant, today, come from?

I really could not get folks to truly understand why all this TSA and Homeland Security* faux theatre bugged the krap out of me.

Then a few months back I stumbled upon Bruce Schneier. I spent the other day perusing his blog posts and articles on TSA. YOU MUST READ THEM. :-)

Schneier on Security: Beyond Security Theater  (Nov 2009) – He calls it theatre, too! And it blew my mind how similar our thoughts and perceptions are.

Counterterrorism is also hard, especially when we’re psychologically prone to muck it up. Since 9/11, we’ve embarked on strategies of defending specific targets against specific tactics, overreacting to every terrorist video, stoking fear, demonizing ethnic groups, and treating the terrorists as if they were legitimate military opponents who could actually destroy a country or a way of life — all of this plays into the hands of terrorists. We’d do much better by leveraging the inherent strengths of our modern democracies and the natural advantages we have over the terrorists: our adaptability and survivability, our international network of laws and law enforcement, and the freedoms and liberties that make our society so enviable. The way we live is open enough to make terrorists rare; we are observant enough to prevent most of the terrorist plots that exist, and indomitable enough to survive the even fewer terrorist plots that actually succeed. We don’t need to pretend otherwise.

The Things He Carried (Nov 2008) – An article from The Atlantic where Schneier shows how leaky the TSA security system is: fake boarding passes, smuggling liquids, and other failures in airport security.

Schneier and I walked to the security checkpoint. “Counterterrorism in the airport is a show designed to make people feel better,” he said. “Only two things have made flying safer: the reinforcement of cockpit doors, and the fact that passengers know now to resist hijackers.” This assumes, of course, that al-Qaeda will target airplanes for hijacking, or target aviation at all. “We defend against what the terrorists did last week,” Schneier said. He believes that the country would be just as safe as it is today if airport security were rolled back to pre-9/11 levels. “Spend the rest of your money on intelligence, investigations, and emergency response.”

Schneier on Security: Harms of Post-9/11 Airline Security  (Mar 2012) – A post prompted by a discussion Schneier had with former TSA Administrator Kip Hawley. [links below from original article]

At this point, we don’t trust America’s TSA, Britain’s Department for Transport, or airport security in general. We don’t believe they’re acting in the best interests of passengers. We suspect their actions are the result of politicians and government appointees making decisions based on their concerns about the security of their own careers if they don’t act tough on terror, and capitulating to public demands that “something must be done”.

Return airport security checkpoints to pre-9/11 levels. Get rid of everything that isn’t needed to protect against random amateur terrorists and won’t work against professional al-Qaeda plots. Take the savings thus earned and invest them in investigation, intelligence, and emergency response: security outside the airport, security that does not require us to play guessing games about plots. Recognise that 100% safety is impossible, and also that terrorism is not an “existential threat” to our way of life. Respond to terrorism not with fear but with indomitability.Refuse to be terrorized.

Where do we go from here?
I seemed to have found a soul mate who is calling BS on the TSA and Homeland Security. Do read his posts on air travel. There are posts on how folks are circumventing security, calculating excess automobile deaths as a result of 9/11, and the politics of security in a democracy. And here’s an anchor post that urges us not to give in to what the terrorists want.

The surest defense against terrorism is to refuse to be terrorized. Our job is to recognize that terrorism is just one of the risks we face, and not a particularly common one at that. And our job is to fight those politicians who use fear as an excuse to take away our liberties and promote security theater that wastes money and doesn’t make us any safer.

Alas, it’s quite depressing to see such a public figure like Schneier, who is speaking straight to the leaders, getting nowhere in changing the government’s mind. Indeed, it’s also depressing to me that not only did things not moderate when Obama came into office, but I feel things got more paranoic. It’s like the apparatus that Cheney and cronies put into place has a life of it’s own that the government can’t dismantle (again, shame on you, Obama).

But I find hope that Schneier comes out with great articles such as this one in the Atlantic: “The Boston Marathon Bombing: Keep Calm and Carry On“. The effect of those bombs will affect me in some way or other this year – I live in the region and I want to run the marathon as an unregistered runner. But this sums up well what I believe:

How well this attack succeeds depends much less on what happened in Boston than by our reactions in the coming weeks and months. Terrorism isn’t primarily a crime against people or property. It’s a crime against our minds, using the deaths of innocents and destruction of property as accomplices. When we react from fear, when we change our laws and policies to make our country less open, the terrorists succeed, even if their attacks fail. But when we refuse to be terrorized, when we’re indomitable in the face of terror, the terrorists fail, even if their attacks succeed.

Be indomitable. Refuse to be terrorized.

 

*”Homeland”? Really? First time I heard it, made me cringe. To me, it conjures “heimat” ideas from Nazi Germany. Can you blame me for being on edge since the terrorist rhetoric began on 11 Sep 2001?

Google Maps as traffic cop in the sky?

TrafficI am a very heavy user of Google Maps, even when I know where I’m going. It’s a pretty good* predictor of current travel time and traffic patterns.

A few times lately, I’ve also had to use it to circumvent traffic snarls (one time enjoying rural New Jersey near Pennsylvania).

Then, one day, during a storm, I noticed there was a car in front of me that seemed to be also circumventing the traffic with me. Could it be, I thought, the driver was also using Google Maps, and we both got the same route to follow?

With Google as the oracle, if someone heads off the highway with me, it’s likely that we both will follow the same route via Google Maps.

But what happens when all of us have that info and all of us try to circumvent traffic in the same way. You’ll have streams of cars going off in the same direction.

And what if Google actually was even more clever and only sent a few of us of in one direction, a few in the other, and some elsewhere so that Google actually managed traffic like a traffic cop in the sky?

That’d be weird.

 

*One note on the travel time predictor – it’s only for NOW. I do long 5 hours trips and wished Google could estimate travel for the trip taking into account when I’ll be where and how the usual traffic pattern would be. Do you know what I mean? I’m sure they have the data and the computational power to do this. For instance: imagine picking a route and getting travel time recommendations based on the time you start out.