Big Cousin

It’s bad enough when your government feels the need to spy on every move you make. But when they outsource this to private contractors, adding in the profit motive to their dubious approach of "security through mass behavioral modification," then you’ve gone beyond even Orwell.

The private sector will be asked to manage and run a communications database that will keep track of everyone’s calls, emails, texts and internet use under a key option contained in a consultation paper to be published next month by Jacqui Smith, the home secretary.

The British apparently don’t mind being subjugated by either Royalty or Ministry, as long as their ruler claims to protect them. At least that’s what I infer from their overall passivity on this issue. Continue reading

Emotiv “Mind-Control” joystick coming soon

I’ll be eager to try this outside of a Game Developer Conference. You train the hardware + software to recognize your EEG pattern for basic commands, as you’d find on a game controller. It then does a pretty good job of reading those back as you play. They’ve added a "disappear" command, and they can apparently read your basic mood, in addition to some facial muscle inputs.

Hosting the World’s Scientifc Data

The good news is that Google has generously offered to host the world’s scientific data sets on its servers for free. That fits pretty well with their mission to index the world’s information. If the data isn’t accessible, it’s hard to index.

Stefan has posted a video of Michael Jones discussing this at the AGU on Dec 15th.

At the AGU Fall meeting, Google’s Michael Jones outlines Google’s recommendation to the Obama administration to link increased funding for basic scientific research to an obligation to share the resulting data freely. Watch the video of the speech.

Continue reading

Scientific Residue

Taking a break from the usual content, I thought the toxic spill of some 2.8 million cubic feet of coal fly ash warrants a reminder that fly ash is not only toxic, but it’s been shown to be even more radioactive than living near a nuclear plant.

At issue is coal’s content of uranium and thorium, both radioactive elements. They occur in such trace amounts in natural, or "whole," coal that they aren’t a problem. But when coal is burned into fly ash, uranium and thorium are concentrated at up to 10 times their original levels.

You might not get to hear this particular information on media outlets sponsored by "Clean Coal." The TVA, for its part, isn’t even admitting the ash is toxic.


Its Academic

Interesting note to pass along about NSF investing some cash in open virtual worlds technology, at least academically. The "geometric" protocols described sound like things that have been kicked around for a while but not really implemented in any big way. And the parametric modeling (of trees so far) is music to my ears.

It seems one of the biggest problems in virtual worlds, going back 15-20 years, is that so few people are able to tell bullshit from gold, even in their own efforts. They start massive projects, only to crumble to the forces of scalability, usability, or consumer choice.

It turns out that Pat Hanrahan et al have serious clout at saying "this is the right way to do this." His students often go on to become architects at various Silicon Valley companies, like NVidia, AMD, etc..  So chances are, this collaboration will come up with some new buzz-worthy concept, like they did for Stream Computing and a bunch of other graphics technologies we now use, that will make people sit up and notice. It doesn’t have to be new — just credible  — for it to be adopted by big companies. However, that process usually takes 2-3 years for full trickle-through effect.



Make sure to check out the Seadragon photo viewer for iPhone that just came out this weekend. Extremely cool stuff, and perfectly suited for multi-touch. The only thing it’s missing is rotation, which isn’t critical, but would be cool. Here’s the iTunes link.

I’ve previously written about how great Google Earth for iPhone is. However, not every mapping technology is well suited for this format. Streetview for iPhone, for example, is missing the mark, which may be why it’s kind of buried in the UI — someone was evidently having second thoughts about putting it out there as a first class feature.

The problem: apart from driving directions and mere curiosity, I’m not yet finding much value in looking at a place as if I’m on the street while I’m actually on the street. It’s not exactly augmented reality when I’m getting a lesser experience overall. However, this is not easy to get right, even on the desktop, and I give them a lot of credit for just getting the basics to work right. I’m interested to see where they take it down the road, so to speak.

All of the most interesting iPhone apps, the ones that really leverage the GPS, for example, are still sadly on the horizon, waiting for Apple to allow either background tasks to wake up or to allow "push" updates for 3rd party apps. Calendar uses the push approach already and works very well. For some reason, I can only get my exchange email to pull updates when I press the button, which makes the iPhone only half useful for the purpose I intended. (it’s probably an internal IT issue — possibly solved if I used an outside exchage relay, which I’m not inclined to do — let me know if you know a safer workaround…).

My guess as to why Apple has delayed the promised "push" feature is simply scalability. A thousand different apps simulating background tasking with timely push updates (i.e., just to wake up) is arguably worse than allowing true background tasking, as it burns both CPU and modem cycles instead of just CPU (unless the true background tasks are polling the network, which is probably what Apple and AT&T are most concerned about — think P2P…)

Apple seems to want "push" to come from only their servers, which adds an incredible burden on them as well. I’m guessing the idea is that they can better control the number and timing (and, I’d expect, the relative importance) of push updates with this limitation. But the cost, I’m also guessing, is very high for them, hence the delay.

If it were me, I’d just allow background tasks on the CPU directly and make apps accountable for how much battery & bandwidth they use. If the app store is a true ecosystem, then consumers will balance those things against utility for any given app, and the best will rise to the top. At least they should. People don’t always do what we want, now do they?