Nassam

MySciFi: The Emissary of Nommo

Maintaining a watchmaker’s delicate precision Moseek fiddles with the joint under Nassam’s wing, humming to himself as he loosens it just enough to expose the port. He slips the tube in with a slight hermetic squeak and then initiates the feeder pump.

Nassam shivers and lets out a sort of gurgling squawk. The falcon is used to this but doesn’t particularly enjoy the process as the cold metallic carbonation of sange works its way through his vasculature. Exhaling a volume of musty smoke, Moseek puts down the old stained pipe, wipes his dark, wrinkled hands on a cloth, and rubs a bump behind his left ear to initiate the pairing sequence.

It’s easier with his eyes closed. The periphery narrows and sharpens into impossible detail, the colors shifted and slightly muted across a much wider visual spectrum showing him parts of the world occulted by typical human sight. Nassam shares odd bird thoughts with his friend, memories of flight and the desire to hunt, the pairing allowing them to join in this internal space, each self still individuated and yet overlapping in a cold, slightly-prosthetic intimacy.

After their brief inner greeting Moseek initiates the tuning kit. His view of Nassam’s optic feed blurs behind an array of alpha transparencies representing the sange interface. He moves through a set of viz showing various physical stats, runtime exceptions, and waypoint logs now streaming from the bird. Opening a new module, he uploads the package to its container. His humming returns, rising with intensity through the tonal melodies, something old and sad and vast. He binds the package, extracts its contents, and executes the program.

Nassam begins to shake erratically, loosening small feathers into the dimly lit air of the hut. With the sudden shifting of Moseek’s feet, puffs of dust stir in the narrow sunbeams cutting through cracks in the mud walls. The sweat beading his brow is running muddy and tan. Now panting uncontrollably, Nassam lets out a guttural squawk followed by a very unsettled droning. The bird of prey is scared and losing control. Moseek fights back his own autonomous response as his breath quickens and his hands begin to shake. His heart is pounding so loud it seems to boom in the space between them. Through the shared cascade of hormones and adrenaline he struggles to maintain the interface, rapidly adjusting parameters to combat Nassam’s stress while modifying the properties of the new program binding directly to the falcon’s nervous system. In the hut his hands wave in furious gestures grabbing at invisible objects. The humming breaks free of Moseek’s lips and rises into full-throated vocalization of the ancient songs passed to him by the ancestors, their movements and intonations now paired with macro functions driving the constructs. Like a conductor, he works the virtual interface running on Nassam’s wetware with deliberate passion and a divine providence born of faith and faith alone.

The great bird is still shaking but he’s finding a rhythm as the upgrade settles in and seeks homeostasis. The rush of user interface begins to subside showing only a few fundamental metrics. Their small mud hut resolves finely in Nassam’s optic channel as Moseek hums the bird’s name calmly and tenderly, placing his hand softly on the back of his wet, feathered neck.

For a moment of eternity they merge souls and fall into emptiness together through the shared un-space of self.
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Running With Machine Herds

Continuing its annual tradition of walking the lines between genuine social goodyness and highfalutin’ techno utopianism, the TED2013 conference kicked off this week in Los Angeles. Gathering together some of the brighter minds and more well-heeled benefactors, attendees come to tease apart the phase space of possibility and to take a closer look at how we consciously examine and intentionally evolve our world. Among the many threads and themes, one in particular tugs deeply at both aspirational humanism and existential terror.

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Quick Riffs on Autonomous Vehicles

This tweet got me riffing on potential outcomes & exploits available when autonomous vehicles become common:

I also “like” (or “find interesting”, in the Chinese proverbial sense) the idea of rogue agents seizing control over vehicular fleets to direct and coordinate their movements towards some sort of goal, e.g. assembling to bust a road barricade or defend a bank heist. Interesting times, indeed…

[Apologies/nods to Scott Smith.]

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Virtual Hitmen Hired To Curb Son’s Gaming Addiction

From China, this article tickles my sic-fi bone in just the right way. It’s one of those news bits that seems enfolded out of the future just to remind us how odd and accelerated we are in the present. From Kotaku:

Unhappy with his son not finding a job, Mr. Feng decided to hire players in his son’s favorite online games to hunt down Xiao Feng… Feng’s idea was that his son would get bored of playing games if he was killed every time he logged on, and that he would start putting more effort into getting a job.

The article itself is a bit bland but the concept is ultracool and ripe for embellishment. Son hires mercenary clan to defend himself against father’s hit men. Or, son hires hackers to destroy dad’s credit so dad turns to Lawnmower Men to wipe son’s digital identity. How about a new niche of virtual assassin’s paid to neutralize annoying troll’s, spammers, or distant relatives with bothersome religious/political agenda’s? Social media assassins that target Twitter & Facebook accounts for permanent deletion… How safe is the virtual self when we don’t have the hard-wired instinct to protect it in the way we do our own bodies?

Valve signals hardware is the future of distribution

Gabe Newell, the co-founder and managing director at PC gaming powerhouse Valve Software, recently spoke with Kotaku about the shifting landscape of games distribution and his company’s move into the living room.

Ten years ago Valve established Steam as a primary distribution channel for its titles and add-on content. Just this month they’ve released Big Picture, establishing a foothold in the living room by essentially porting the Valve experience to the TV. With a new controller and interface, user’s can play games, stream content, and access Steam through Big Picture’s front-end.

Speaking to Kotaku, Newell suggested that Valve and other competitors will release custom branded hardware solutions for the living room within the next year. User’s would be able to buy an official Valve gaming console (likely to be a lightweight PC or Linux device) and plug it into their TV. While this may seem surprising to many who have suggested that console gaming is in decline, Newell let slip the compelling hook for game’s developers.

“Well certainly our hardware will be a very controlled environment… If you want more flexibility, you can always buy a more general purpose PC. For people who want a more turnkey solution, that’s what some people are really gonna want for their living room.”

As content has dematerialized and gotten loose and slippery, content houses have been trying to figure out how to put the genie back in the bottle and retain control over their IP. Hardware offers such a controlled environment and, thanks in large part to Apple, hardware manufacturing is easier than it’s ever been. It wouldn’t be too surprising if, a few years down the road, Valve decides to lock down distribution completely by shunting all its users onto a low-priced piece of branded hardware. Plug it into your TV, launch Steam, and pull content direct from the Valve server farm.

Now imagine if they release Half Life 3 and you can only buy it through their hardware…

[Related: Hardware, the ugly stepchild of Venture Capital, is having a glamor moment]

model

Recent Notes on Reality Capture & 3D Printing

It may be symptomatic of our times but the delta between weak signal & fast-moving trend seems to be getting shorter & shorter. Compelling innovations are bootstrapped rapidly into full-fledged solutions, enabling a highly-efficient lab-to-home ecosystem. While it’s been percolating for years, the emergence of consumer 3D printing really only landed on the hype cycle in the past 12 months or so but in this time there have been considerable advances.

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Election 2012: Stories and Statistics

When the 2012 election returns came in there was no more tragic and revealing figure than Karl Rove. His live reaction in the Fox newsroom after the network called Ohio for the Democratic incumbent was that of a man at odds with reality. He simply couldn’t grasp that his narrative had slipped free from the world, the map hewn in twain by the sudden jutting of an unexpected iceberg.

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so you want to migrate to the cloud…

Many mature software companies are now in the awkward position of trying to migrate their heavyweight legacy solutions from the desktop into the uncertain domain of the cloud. Fortune 500’s are slow to adapt, preferring to leverage their cash-cow back catalog for as long as possible while gently testing the waters with lightweight solutions more aligned with marketing than their core execution layer. The results often paint the erstwhile-giants as out-of-touch and late to the game, delivering simple offerings that fail to successfully integrate with the evolving needs of their user base. The solution is not an easy one, requiring much greater commitment and risk than most CFO’s can stomach. But the cloud is not going away and the alternative to full adoption is to be resigned to a narrowing niche.

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InsideScoop

inside scoop – interviewing the santa cruz city council candidates

Last night I was on a panel of 3 with Peggy Dolgenos and Cliff Hodges interviewing our local candidates for Santa Cruz City Council. I represented the Santa Cruz Geeks, one of the event sponsors along with SC NEXT, Cruzio Internet, and Civinomics. The legendary Kuumbwa Jazz center hosted the event (I was on the same stage once held by Booby Hutchinson, McCoy Tyner, Pharaoh Sanders, Joe Zawinul, and many other greats). Our local darlings, the Penny Ice Creamery, brought free waffle cones. Billed as “Inside Scoop“, we crowdsourced questions from the community, then reviewed, consolidated, & massaged them into ~100 min of public examination. The event was fun, and warm, organic, and surprisingly challenging to the candidates and the panel.

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Me, in the Kinect point cloud (video still).

my home project: kinect hacking

Over the weekend I bought a Kinect and wired it to my Mac. I’m following the O’Reilly/Make book, Making Things See, by Greg Borenstein (who kindly tells me I’m an amateur machine vision researcher). With the book I’ve set up Processing, a JAVA-lite coding environment, and the open source Kinect libraries, SimpleOpenNI & NITE. I’ve spent a good chunk of the weekend reading a hundred pages into the book and working through the project tutorials and I’ve generated some interesting interactions and imagery. There’s also a ton of tutorial vids on You Tube, natch, to help cut through the weeds and whatnot.

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3dgun

weak signals in 3d print disruption

Peter Thiel’s foundation gives $350,000 to back Modern Meadow’s efforts to create bioprinted meats.

An engineer prints a working lower receiver for an AR-15 using a 15-year old Stratasys printer.

A Glasgow professor modifies a 3D printer to make pharmaceuticals.

More people manipulating matter with cheaper hardware. The rising tide of technology lifts all boats…

…..

whoomp1

“insight, perspicacity, lyrical beauty and complete hogwash

I just have to share this wonderful blurb from Bruce Sterling about my article, Extended Senses & Invisible Fences:

*Y’know, it’s crazy-making to read stuff like this. It’s so full of insight, perspicacity, lyrical beauty and complete hogwash… and there’s no possible way to know which parts are which.

*It’s like a tsunami is coming and someone hands you a witch’s broom.

When I first read this I was struck by how he managed to catch a fairly subtle piece of my character that indeed deeply informs my writing: I aim for no truth, merely sharing my own experience, equal parts analytic and trickster, swept up with some good ol’ mysticism.

Praise from Caesar is praise indeed! Thanks, Bruce!

inviting machines into our bodies – big think

I have a new article over at Big Think looking at trends in wireless implant technology and the vulnerability profile presented by our emerging integration with connected biodevices. This article builds on my previous post here, Ubicomp Getting Under Your Skin? So Are Hackers.

From the intro:

In what amounts to a fairly shocking reminder of how quickly our technologies are advancing and how deeply our lives are being woven with networked computation, security researchers have recently reported successes in remotely compromising and controlling two different medical implant devices. Such implanted devices are becoming more and more common, implemented with wireless communications both across components and outward to monitors that allow doctors to non-invasively make changes to their settings. Until only recently, this technology was mostly confined to advanced labs but it is now moving steadily into our bodies. As these procedures become more common, researchers are now considering the security implications of wiring human anatomy directly into the web of ubiquitous computation and networked communications.

More…

New Aesthetic Filmmaking – Clouds: DSLR + Kinect + RGBD Toolkit

The work of James George caught my attention when he began publishing still images generated by mixing inputs from a DSLR camera paired with a Kinect scanner. He & partner, Jonathan Mind, recently produced this thoroughly compelling future-now video from the same process, using their open framework software, RGBD Toolkit, to manage the mapping and in-scene navigation. The camera is fixed but since the Kinect produces a 3D scene you can navigate around the captured image. Where forms in the camera field cast shadows, i.e. where the Kinect cannot scan past e.g. an occluding arm & hand, you see stretching and warping of the 3D mesh and image map. The effect is uncannily similar to the scenes in the film version of Minority Report when Tom Cruise’s character watches holovids of his son & wife, their forms trailing along the light path of the holoprojector.George & Mind frame this video as an exploration of emerging techniques and technologies in filmmaking. Also, they talk about coding and geekery and other cool stuff.

Clouds: beta from DEEPSPEED media on Vimeo.

Clouds is a computational documentary featuring hackers and media artists in dialogue about code, culture and the future of visualization.

This is a preview of a feature length production to be released later this year.

By Jonathan Minard (http://www.deepspeedmedia.com/) and James George (http://www.jamesgeorge.org/)
Made with RGBDToolkit.com

The State of Augmented Reality – ARE2012

Last week I attended and spoke at the Wednesday session of ARE2012, the SF Bay Area’s largest conference on augmented reality. This is the 3rd year of the conference and both the maturity of the industry and the cooling of the hype were evident. Attendance was lower than previous years, content was more focused on advertising & marketing examples, and there was a notable absence of platinum sponsors and top-tier enterprise attendees. On the surface this could be read as a general decline of the field but this is not the case.

A few things are happening to ferry augmented reality across the Trough of Disillusionment. This year there were more headset manufacturer’s than ever before. The need for AR to go hand’s-free is becoming more & more evident [my biases]. I saw a handful of new manufacturers I’d never even heard of before. And there they were with fully-functional hardware rendering annotations on transparent surfaces. In order for AR to move from content to utility it has to drive hardware development into HUD’s. Google see’s this as does any other enterprise player in the mobile game. Many of the forward-looking discussions effectively assume a head’s-up experience.

At the algorithmic level, things are moving quickly especially in the domain of edge detection, face tracking, and registration. I saw some really exceptional mapping that overlaid masks on people’s faces in realtime responding to movement & expressions without flickers or registration errors (except for the occasional super-cool New Aesthetic glitch when the map blurred off the user’s face if they moved too quickly). Machine vision is advancing at a strong pace and there was an ongoing thread throughout the conference about the challenges the broader industry faces in moving facial recognition technology into the mobile stack. It’s already there and works but the ethical and civil liberty issues are forcing a welcomes pause in consideration.

Qualcomm was the sole platinum sponsor, promoting its Vuforia AR platform. Sony had a booth showing some AR games (Pong!?) on their Playstation Vita device. But pretty much everyone in the enterprise tier stayed home, back in the labs and product meetings and design reviews, slowly & steadily moving AR into their respective feature stacks. Nokia is doing this, Google of course, Apple has been opening up the camera stream and patenting eyewear, HP is looking at using AR with Autonomy, even Pioneer has a Cyber Navi AR GPS solution. The same players that were underwriting AR conferences in exchange for marketing opportunities and the chance to poach young developers are now integrating the core AR stack into their platforms. This is both good & bad for the industry: good because it will drive standardization and put a lot of money behind innovation; bad because it will rock the world of the Metaio’s & Layar’s who have been tilling this field for years. Typically, as a young technology starts to gain traction and establish value, there follows a great period of consolidation as the big fish eat the little ones. Some succeed, many fall, and a new culture of creators emerges to develop for the winners.

So here we are. Augmented reality is flowing in three streams: Content and marketing grab eyeballs and easy money while conditioning the market to expect these experiences; developers extend the software stack towards real-time pixel-perfect recognition & mapping, enabling the solutions to actually, um, solve problems; and hardware manufacturers labor to bring AR into the many transparent surfaces through which we interact with the world, freeing our hands and augmenting our views with ubiquitous networked data. Across these domains sit content shops, emerging start-ups, the leading innovators ala Layar & Metaio, and the big fish enterprise companies that have had a piece of the tech game for years & years and aren’t going to miss out if AR goes supernova. The market is a bit shaky and very much uncertain for the SMB’s but it’s certainly maturing with the technology.

My sense is that everybody gets that AR is here to stay and has deep intrinsic value to the future of mobility and interface. How this will impact the many passionate folks curating & cultivating the field from the bottom-up remains to be seen.

Extended Senses & Invisible Fences – ARE2012

I recently gave a talk at ARE2012 about emerging interactions in the networked city. It’s a broad overview of ubicomp and how it is modulating our experience of ourselves, each other, and our environment. I’ll be writing a follow-up article with more info.