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Unreal4 runs in the browser. Epic!

Epic Partners With Mozilla To Port Unreal Engine 4 To The Web | TechCrunch.

Using the amazingly cool emscripten and asm.js, it’s now possible (with minimal effort) to port original C++/OpenGL code to run in Javascript/WebGL in many web browsers. That’s amazing. And it almost completely fulfills the vision we discussed many years ago with the likes of Vlad Vukicevic and others. Even the 1.5x performance penalty is not a big deal, considering most of the work in a 3D app is done by the same hardware whether it’s via a browser or native OS. If you write it correctly, it should run 100% as fast.

This could be catastrophic to companies like Unity3D, who solve cross-platform 3D by making you work in their time-tested little sandbox, except for the poor level of support WebGL has on mobile. That’s the last remaining bottleneck to real Web 3D.

Apple only officially supports WebGL inside iAds, proving it’s not a technical problem at least. Android support is variable, but within reach. These conditions are mostly IMO functions of the current lucrative business model for apps, not any lingering hardware or security limits. Consider: if mobile browsers improve, then cool 3D apps are once again free, unchained by “app” and “play” stores and their up to 30% markups.

On the other hand, the web is what built the digital economy that’s fueled mobile growth. Mobile phones have gone back to the pre-browser era to make some money, but it’s inevitable that we’ll all return to a more open ecosystem, esp. on Android. Closed ecosystems like AOL only lasted until people found the door.

Nicely done, Vlad, Tony, Ken, and more.

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In the shadow of Google Glass

Here’s fun Verge article from last spring that mentioned me nicely. I don’t seek out much press, but it’s nice to get a good review.

If you haven’t seen the video, you can watch me battle the stage lights below.

In an inspirational speech, Avi Bar-Zeev of Syntertainment, a startup in stealth mode, suggests that [Augmented Reality] could change the world.

Every game-changing technology can be recast as a human superpower,” he suggests, likening the television to primitive clairvoyance, the telephone to telepathy, and the wheel to telekinesis. “If I decide I want that rock to move, I have the power to make it move with much less effort,” he says. But if you could reshape your reality at will, could “teleport” elsewhere, he asks, what would it mean to be in jail? Bar-Zeev also points out that the difference between augmented reality and virtual reality is purely semantic if you imagine screens built into contact lenses. “What’s the difference between AR and VR? Open and close your eyes. That’s it.”

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Whats Amazing?

It’s not the $19B price tag of Facebook’s WhatsApp acquisition that’s most amazing to me. That’s just math (lots of math). More users * more engagement * a wealthy/desperate suitor = bigger deals.

It’s not most amazing to me that the deal works out to over $250M per employee, if evenly split. For comparison, Google seems to be worth about $8.5M per employee, last I checked. Apple reportedly pulls in a whopping $2.3M yearly per employee in revenues alone. (average Apple employees, how much of that do you get paid again?).

WhatsApp just did more and faster with fewer people. That’s what makes a great team. I’m sure everyone was amazing. Dysfunctional teams or people barely earn back their salaries, if they survive at all.

The motivation for the deal is not amazing at all, since Facebook desperately needs to connect the very people who don’t need Facebook to connect, i.e., the people you see every day. It seemed almost inevitable, given the trends.

No. What is most amazing to me is the powerful principle behind this simple note at right — one of the core principles that apparently made WhatsApp so popular with hundreds of millions of users. I found this via the Sequoia blog post about the sale, and I honestly had no idea.

Jan keeps a note from Brian taped to his desk that reads “No Ads! No Games! No Gimmicks!” It serves as a daily reminder of their commitment to stay focused on building a pure messaging experience.

It’s most amazing to me, and most inspiring, because there are so many professional CEOs and advisors out there who try to convince their startups that they need to collect and hoard as much user data as possible, then sell it surreptitiously, while also pushing ads and wringing every last monetizable cent with games and gimmics to keep people addicted and virally engaged.

Those same fine folks somehow duck out (or get fired) when the users finally complain, defect and disappear. And they apparently never learn from their mistakes. But they do come back, with the same tired story again and again.

WhatsApp proved them wrong and proved it 19 billion times over.

Build value for users. Give them what they want and need, every day. That’s the recipe for success. This kind of success is something I can truly appreciate and admire.

 

P.S. I’d like to think that this is the real reason Facebook bought them, given FB’s reliance on those same tired ads, games, etc… Maybe it wasn’t for more European and emerging market penetration. Maybe it wasn’t merely to disarm a growing competitor. Maybe it’s for Facebook to become more like them? Maybe that’s why they put Jan on the board. If so, good for them.

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WebGL Water

Really nice water demo.

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When You Fall in Love, This Is What Facebook Sees

When You Fall in Love, This Is What Facebook Sees – Robinson Meyer – The Atlantic.

I’ve heard that credit card companies know when you’re cheating or about to get divorced. I’d imagine things like flowers, gifts and hotels would be a tip off, but general expenses probably approach double once a couple is separated.

This data about facebook posts makes perfect sense too. People using FB will post more flirtatiously until the relationship starts. But after, why post so much? Even in real life, it’s rare for couples to make strong public displays of affection once they’re together. If they do, it may come more from insecurity about the relationship, or insensitivity to others’ feelings, than from some unparalleled eternal flame.

This highlights one of Facebook’s core challenges — how to capture sentiments shared between people who spend a lot of time together.

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Bing Maps Preview Arrives

Big Congrats to the teams in Bellevue, Sunnyvale, Boulder, Graz and more.

What you’re seeing here is the product of 10 years of effort, in many ways, and represents a turnaround and partial recovery from one of Ballmer’s biggest mistakes. He famously handed most of the company’s mapping business to Nokia, losing many smart minds and multiple years of effort in the process.

But a core group remained, and with the company’s renewed support were able to build this as a first step to catching up. And it’s a very admirable step. Nice work!

From Bing Maps Preview Arrives on Windows 8.1 – Search Blog.

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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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Fukushima

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

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/charles-perrow/fukushima-forever_b_3941589.html?utm_hp_ref=science&ir=Science

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:

http://maptd.com/map/earthquake_activity_vs_nuclear_power_plants/

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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