Holographic Phone: Stupidly Brilliant

holographic phone

This Is The Coolest Augmented Reality Idea Yet For Using Your Smartphone | Gizmodo Australia.

This idea reportedly comes from a competition that Meta (Space Glasses) is holding. The idea is to project a holographic image of your phone in space (using said glasses) and let you virtually interact with it, instead of taking the phone out of your pocket to do exactly the same.

Why is it a brilliant idea?

It’s simple. People get accustomed to their phone’s UIs. Projecting the phone holographically requires not a single new thought and changes nothing about the core experience. Well, it does lose out on touching that sleek and sexy touch-screen, feeling the nicely balanced weight of the phone in your hand, and of course key sensors like accelerometers (to a degree) and cameras (at all) to certain phone experiences.

So I guess that means you couldn’t run old augmented reality apps on your holographic phone for a recursive experience. Oh well. There goes a nice photo op.

Why is this a stupid idea?

Your head mounted device can [eventually] paint pixels anywhere you look. It can detect touch anywhere it can see your hands. Why would we limit ourselves to drawing a 4″ screen when we have an infinitely large screen on our head?

It’s a lot like saying, “Hey, we got used to small CRT TVs so let’s draw a small TV inside our brand new 60″ flat screen TV so people don’t have to learn something new.”

Interfaces for AR will run the gamut from holographic virtual actors who become your daily assistant, to making every physical surface in the world potentially interactive by touch, sight and sound. Why would we limit ourselves to UI mechanisms that were designed around the limits of small screens and touch?

Just for the experience of not having to take our phone out of our pocket? Are we really that lazy? If so, ask yourself how much you’d be willing to pay to use your phone without taking it out of your pocket. I’d pay maybe $1.

This really comes down to a core question about AR. Is it about being the ultimate hands-free device, principally meant to deliver us from holding our phone in our hands or up to our faces? Or is it about re-imagining the analog world with new digital layer(s) of content on top?

I can see an app like this being very popular, at least in the way the fart app is popular. That’s only because people’s imaginations are presently too limited. They just haven’t seen the best ideas yet.

On the other hand, it’s turning out that the most popular interface for your new 60″ flat-screen TV with billions of streaming video options is not some new fancy XBox-like natural UI, but rather just your phone.

So what do I know? People may ultimately find ‘stupid’ brilliant.


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This is the thing about nuclear power. It doesn’t just go away when we’re not looking.


Long story short, fuel rods are waiting to be removed to a slightly safer location. Company doing the removal is probably going bankrupt and the government is probably incompetent. If the rods touch, here comes Zuul. We might not have a Tokyo anymore. And in the meantime, cesium detectors might be a useful addition to sushi bars, especially the good ones that fly in their fish…

If you’re thinking, “hey, what if there’s an earthquake somewhere near where I live and the same thing happens again?”

Good thinking! Here’s a handy map of nuclear plants and earthquake zones:


Which makes me think that all those people prepping their little post apocalyptic shelters against evil bandits (after the downfall of civilization, or Obama’s third term) might want to rethink their security plans.

If civilization goes down, so do the people maintaining these nuclear plants. So do the deliveries of fuel to keep the water pumps running. We’d be relying on plants whose fundamental safety plans may be based on the assumption of everything else working just fine.

Personally, I’d be more comfortable with nuclear power if the plants could demonstrate that they’d be the last ones standing (and still generating power) after any number of catastrophes outside.

Otherwise, we might as well draw a map of every nuclear plant in the world being a massive emitter of radiation at once and note the Extinction Level Event we built to power your son’s night light.

Or, you know, we could fix it. We have plenty of time and ample cause for action.

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Giving iPhone5S the Finger

Turns out, all of you who were scared about your fingers being stolen along with your new iPhone can rest assured. Severed fingers won’t work.

No, A Severed Finger Will Not Be Able to Access a Stolen iPhone 5S.

I never quite understood that concern anyway. Thieves probably don’t want your phone for their own use, and they probably don’t want your contact list either. Your credit cards are hopefully not cached, though your account on Newegg could be set to remember your login. But if they really wanted that, then a background trojan passively watching your text entries would be a better bet IMO, meaning they’d want you to keep the phone.

What phone thieves most likely want to do is sell your phone for money, as replacement parts if necessary. And what kind of goofy black market would sell a brand “new” iPhone with some bloody ‘access dongle’ and a nine fingered discount? More likely, thieves would already have a way to reset your phone to factory new so they could wipe it clean and get top dollar.

What about the concern with the government getting your fingerprints? Apple says it doesn’t send or store the actual fingerprint image, but rather just a one-way hash of that data. Good. That only means the government could use your phone like they can today: to record where you go, what you buy, and even potentially what you say in its presence. In this case, they’d at best only have added confidence that it was really you dragging your phone to every strip club in Vegas vs. some other schmuck who “borrowed” it.

The only real concern I have is that of digitally forged fingerprint keys, though I’m sure someone will quickly find a way to spoof you physically, given a latex mold of your finger and some other electronics (that’s probably too much work to be practical).

The key is that the more we rely on a single point of access to validate ourselves, the more someone will try to spoof, copy, or bypass that method. Nothing in cryptography is foolproof, except maybe the old ‘one-time pad’ or its modern quantum equivalents (and even those have circumstantial flaws). If your bank accepts an Apple certificate saying you are who you say you are, at least according to its sensors, it’s that much more tempting for someone to try to forge that certificate. Two or more factor authentication is still the right answer here, but yet a consistently more painful one.

On the other hand, the value prop for the fingerprint sensor will likely win out with Apple’s customers. “You mean I never need to remember my password again? I just need to touch my phone for access to twitbooklinkpin+? Sold!”  [this is probably Apple's main motivation -- becoming the trusted gateway to your data...]

The core question ultimately is not whether the fingerprint method is truly safe or not. It’s kind of like worrying about driving on the new Bay Bridge span, given its too-fragile steel rods. The right question is whether this fingerprint method is safer than the the present method for the vast majority of its users.

Since your mom is using the name of her beloved cat as the password on her main banking site, and since she has probably already clicked that phishing link on Facebook to give said fluffy56 to some Eastern European scammer, I’d say it probably is.

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More Magic

The idea that most man-made objects can be represented with sweep surfaces (cylinders, tubes, squares, etc..) isn’t that new. Second Life primitives used exactly the same principle, with some interesting extensions for cuts, twists, tapers and so on.

But selecting photographic imagery based on implicit primitives, in-painting (hallucinating) the background and unseen object views, and (occasional) relighting of the object is all extremely clever and very useful. Combine this and a system that can relight virtual objects based on scene shadows and you have a paint program that can revise reality, at least virtually, but in a way that would fool almost anyone.

The end-goal of all this work is something I used to call “parametric 3D video” — which roughly means we take one or more 2D video streams, split out the objects, backgrounds, people into separate and fully adjustable pieces, send them as 3D content vs. pixels, and then re-synthesize the result from any angle at the receiving end, along with any changes you want to make.

3D (color + depth) video capture makes the problem much easier. Techniques like this paper are still needed to finish the job, but they can be much more automatic in terms of finding and cutting objects.


▶ 3-Sweep: Extracting Editable Objects from a Single Photo, SIGGRAPH ASIA 2013 – YouTube.

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Please Enjoy this Lyrical Interlude

…while I think of what technical posts I can make without revealing my current project prematurely.

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Breaking Bad = Founding Fail

With the popularity of the fictional show “Breaking Bad”, I’ve seen one too many posts about how Walter White would make a great founder or CEO. Anyone who thinks that belongs in a TV show. I don’t mean starring in — I mean living in…

Spoilers ahead

Here’s the theory, if you can call it that. WW went from mild high school teacher with terminal cancer to a successful criminal mastermind. He dealt with every obstacle, built a lucrative business, engineered a very popular product, built a brand, took out his competition and can now “retire.”


Ok. Let’s leave aside the morality and legality of making and selling methamphetamine, which would otherwise end our fantasy right there. Let’s start though with intentionally engineering a product that literally kills your customers.

Smokes, guns, and oil are the most notable examples of products in this category (oil is certainly less direct), and they all require massive lobbying of and cooperation from authorities, as opposed to secrecy and evasion. Otherwise, though, meth dealing might be roughly on par. WW may even be ahead in terms of innovation…

However, the meth cooking business, no matter how pure your product, doesn’t scale. Gus had done a much better job engineering distribution and dealing with authorities, and even he had to invoke a near miracle to survive his “coopetition” in the form of a brutal Cartel (if only temporarily). To succeed, WW would have needed to become a politician, legalize drugs, and then sell meth at every 7/11 (which might not be that much of a stretch, except for the legalization part). And there’s still the end result of killing your customers in short order.

Some say WW did a great job learning from his mistakes. Again, bullshit. He had his wealthy co-founders offering to pay for his medical bills or pay him to simply hang around. His pride took over. He saw the pain he was causing to his wife, to Jesse and others, and he continued to bully, lie and manipulate and always make it worse. He actually caused most of the horrible situations he had to get himself out of. And the only lesson he really learned from all that is to kill everyone sooner — “no more half measures,” as Mike taught him. Poor Mike.

At the bottom of it all, WW is a psychopath. Psychopaths do not make great CEOs. They are not more rational and therefore better at making hard decisions. They simply have less empathy. They see other people as objects to be used. They will tend to make decisions that are good for them, not the company, because the company exists for them. They will take out all perceived threats, cause mistrust in everyone else, and drive people away.

High functioning psychopaths, like Francis Underwood (and wife) in “House of Cards” can do much better in life than Walt, but still often have many behaviors that undermine themselves in the long run. Watch the British version (with the magnificent Sir Ian Richardson) if you want to skip ahead.

Of course, the beauty of Breaking Bad is exactly in how WW causes his own misery and overcomes each obstacle. Great fiction requires conflict, obstacles, and suffering (just ask George R.R. Martin). But let’s not take these lessons into our workplace.

Real life is dramatic enough.

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Microsoft shows off WebGL for IE11

This is awesome news.

Microsoft shows off WebGL, touch-capable features in Internet Explorer 11 | Ars Technica.

As Will Wright noted earlier about a different “reversal,” it’s always a good thing when the world’s largest software company actively listens to its users and what they want.

Great things will happen as a result.

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Google admits its famous job interview questions were a ‘complete waste of time’

File this under ‘no shit sherlock’

Google admits its famous job interview questions were a ‘complete waste of time’ | Death and Taxes.

When I decided to finally leave Microsoft last year, I interviewed at both Google and Amazon. I like both companies, but the interviews were worlds apart. Google mainly asked me two kinds of questions: 1. if we hired you and you could start up any new project, what would it be? 2. Why do traffic cones have holes on top?(*)

Both questions are complete wastes of time, unless I was being given a blank check to do anything I wanted, perhaps involving traffic cones. The first kind of question also has an appearance of “fishing for ideas,” esp. if they don’t hire you, that is best to avoid.

Amazon, on the other hand, used behavioral interviews very consistently. “Tell me about an actual situation where X happened, what did you do, what was the result?” Amazon made it clear up front that even when you made mistakes, you hopefully learned from them. So what were those mistakes and what did you learn? (btw, this is reflected in at least one of their leadership principles: “vocally self critical” — none of this “my main flaw is I work too hard” bullshit.)

The difference in the quality of the interviews was night and day. One Amazon interviewer even asked me for honest feedback on how the interview was being conducted, right in the interview (my only nit: Amazon interviewers often take copious notes on their laptops, making them appear less engaged. But I later learned why the notes are so vital to their process).

So when we’re interviewing people at Syntertainment, we obviously use the behavioral variety of questions. We’ve done a few technical interviews as well, and there the best measure is not coding at a whiteboard (who ever does this in real life?). Rather, we ask to take an hour (or two, if needed) to write a program on an actual computer that does X, Y and Z and then let’s talk about the choices you made. It’s even okay to use Google, as long as you don’t copy code.

Turns out all those Googlers who know all about the history of traffic cones are still very good at building search engines. Good on them.


(*) The Director who asked that “traffic cone” question was apparently looking for the answer “because that’s where you put the lights.” Huh? I admitted that while I’d seen plenty of orange barrels and T-shaped thingys with blinking lights on them, I’d never seen an actual cone with a light on top. In fact, my answer was that the hole on top was likely an original engineering side-effect, rather than a design feature. I figured that prior to injection molding, it was just easier to roll some material into a cone shape, resulting in a natural hole on top (unless you try really hard to form a point). But having a hole proved great for both air flow (when you try to separate a stack of these) and as a finger hole to lift the cone. That’s often how things evolve, from simple ideas to more refined ones. On the other hand, nowadays, the holes are actually standardized for a plastic attachment called a “boss” which is useful for wrapping police tape, etc… So there’s some truth to the “standard attachments” theory. Mostly, I figure, it’s rare to observe lights on cones, because cones are generally short and are meant to collapse when you drive over them. Putting rigid and breakable objects on top tends to defeat the purpose and are better reserved for more rigid barrels or poles. But what do I know?

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My AWE 2013 Talk is Online

I had to cut out most of the jokes due to the 15 minute time limit, but I thought I at least got to the main points and finished right on the nose. What do you think?

Slides are here

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From Last Year’s ARE2012


While waiting for the video of my talk from this year’s AWE conference to go up, I found this video from last year. It’s not the most exciting footage ever recorded, but interesting enough to post.

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