Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Yelp Me This

According to their website, "Yelp is the fun and easy way to find and talk about great (and not so great) local businesses".

The following two videos, pushed to my Flipbook "Gear and Gadgets" feed, are dramatizations of two reviews, performed by actors. Normally, I would just retweet, but these are just so funny, I felt compelled to share them, Jublerant style.

YouTube summary: Professional actor Chris Kipiniak puts the full weight of his dynamic gifts behind this interpretation of an online restaurant review.

YouTube summary: Award winning audio-book narrator and actress Therese Plummer (The Good Wife, Law and Order SVU) lends her expressive talents to this rendition of a Yelp review.

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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Virtually You

Zynga reported a $22.8m loss. Its shares plummeting, analysts are forecasting an uncertain future for the maker of the hugely popular game, Farmville, and six other top games on Facebook.

Whoa! Unsatisfactory revenues for the developer of popular games? Yes, because the number of users of largely free games doesn't reflect earnings.

Zynga makes its money by selling virtul goods, like tractors for Farmville. Selling virtual goods for a web-based game is a relatively new business model. No inventory to warehouse, no deliveries to make, and no storefront to pay for. Selling virtual bits and bytes (things that don't exist but that people pay for) sounds great, but is the experiment failing?

I am tempted to argue that paying real money for a virtual tractor in a game that I don't personally own, is a waste. But consider this - we have been trading in virtual goods for quite a while. Some examples:

  • Virtual money (credits) for online stores - eventually you can exchange the currency for physical goods, but you can't hold the cash in your hands.
  • Electronic books - although you can read a book that you bought for your eReader, the book only exists as bits and bytes.
  • Smartphone applications - they are right there in the palm of your hand for you to use, but they are not physical objects.

I'm sure you can think of other examples. The point is that we do readily part with our money for virtual goods - products that we can't touch, feel, or hold. We do so because although the purchased item is only a series of 1s and 0s, it benefits us somehow in the physical reality. So why should buying a nonexistent tractor for our entertainment be any different?

Right now, many of us (whether we acknowledge it or not) live two lives - real life offline, and virtual life online. Countless articles have been published discussing the effect of one on the other (such as here and here and here). In real life a person might be an introverted antisocial. In virtual life that same person might be the most outgoing socialite on Facebook. It's a sort of sanctioned (encouraged?) schitzophrenia where we can be two different people at once.

The more I think about this relatively new phenomenon of living in both the physical and virtual worlds, the more I am fascinated, excited, and a little worried by how far it is going to go.

DARPA has allocated $7m of next year's budget to developing a system for soldiers to remotely control a "surrogate" to do the dangerous jobs, much like in the movie Avatar. That's not a big stretch from using unmanned drones to engage the enemy on our behalf, but it is a far cry from simply living two lives in your online and offline worlds.

But it's not enough.

Gizmag reports that Russian entrepreneur Dmitri Itskov is heading a startling project to enable the digitization of the human mind by 2045. In other words, within three decades a person's consciousness could be downloaded to a microchip. Stuff of science fiction? The author of the article contends that despite that predictions of technological advancement in certain areas (such as AI) have entirely missed the mark, the technology needed for this project to succeed might already exist, or very nearly exist.

This opens up an entire new world of ethical questions. What is a person - his body, his consciousness? When is a person dead - when his physical body dies, when power is cut to his digitized personality? Is it okay to euthanize someone's body if you are going to ensure that he lives on inside the electrical circuits of a robot? If someone is born physically disabled, is it better to download their brain into a fully functioning android, or let them live with the physical disability? It's all too much, but the Russian Ministry of Education and Science and the Dalai Lama don't think so - they support it.

The microchip, Internet and related technologies have sky-rocketed the human race to a place where the rate of change has the potential to outpace our ability to fathom its impact. The consolation is that you now have the next 30 years to play Farmville and contemplate a completely virtual you.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Love Your Fellow Shark

Does it get more exciting than this? Shark Week begins on August 12, 2012. If you love these the bone-less, fanged and fearsome kings of the sea, then Shark Week is for you.

If you really want to get into the whole shark thing, why not get yourself a robot shark? Hours of fun and excitement scaring the living daylights out of family, friends and total strangers.


But we really do need Shark Week because, aside from the Chinese who love shark just a bit too much, the ultimate marine predator generally gets a bad rap. But why? All sharks do is maintain the natural balance of nature. If you happen into their environment, its not really their fault if you look a lot like dinner. 

From an early age we are brain-washed educated to stay away from sharks at all costs, just like in this poem:
A Shark is a Pet
A Funny Shark Poem by Kenn Nesbitt
A shark is a pet
that you don't want to get.
There is nothing less fun than a shark.
He doesn't have fur.
He won't cuddle or purr,
and he never takes walks in the park.
Instead he just stares
and intensely prepares,
as he circles and waits in the dark,
to nibble your nose
and your fingers and toes,
for his bite is much worse than his bark.
Copyright © 2012 Kenn Nesbitt
All Rights Reserved
From www.poetry4kids.com
Actually, with respect to the talented Kenn Nesbitt, there are those who voluntarily keep sharks as pets. Here's YouTube proof:


So enjoy Shark Week and  deepen your understanding of these multi-toothed ocean-faring tigers. Visit www.shark-society.com and read about a Great White Shark called Curly (Curly's Facebook page). Embrace the giant man-eating fish - although probably not literally, like this dude in a Mexican aquarium.

(Shark hug takes place at around 1:20)



"Fish-Friendly Shark Pledge: I am a nice shark. Not a mindless eatin' machine. If I want to change this image, I must first change myself. Fish are friends. Not food. - The sharks"
Finding Nemo
This post is my response to a blog-challenge from DA to write about sharks.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Pants

I saw a chef walking down the street today. I could tell he was a chef because of his weird-looking pants. Naturally, this got me wondering about who else wears strange pants.

[If you receive this post via email, you will have to visit the website to see all the pictures and get the full effect: http://www.ykarp.com]

Chefs
If you're a chef and you're late to work, wear your pajamas. Nobody will notice the difference.

Golfers
Some golfing pants are handed down from generation to generation, never getting washed so as to preserve the luck.

Clowns
If your jokes are no good, you can always rely on your fashion to make the audience laugh.

Mascots

Wear this, but only if you have the figure for it.

Knights in Shining Armor

Sneak up on the heavily armed castle wearing these metal pants.

Elvis


Don't. Only Elvis can get away with pants like these.



Curlers

Curling is a strange sport as it is, so what's with these pants?

Beefeaters

No pants here. But of course, in England, nobody wears pants...they wear trousers.


Fishermen
There's nothing like these snazzy rubber pants to attract the fish.

Wonder Sauna Hot Pants Wearers



If you want to be accepted among polite company or otherwise, don't ever let anyone see you wearing these pants - not your friends, your family or your neighbors.

Teenager
Don't question the wearer about why he wears these pants slipping halfway down. If you have to ask, you just don't get it.


Scotsmen



Not pants, but better than nothing.


Sunday, July 15, 2012

As Good as a Holiday

I've been using Tim now since Feb 2012. For those of you who missed that blog, Tim is my Samsung Galaxy Note. He has really changed the way I navigate my online life.

Email
Email is now more or less instantly downloaded to my pocket. In other words, if you send me an email, Gmail picks it up from my ykarp.com email server. My phone then syncs with Gmail and the phone whistles that mail has been received. The delay is inconsequential, but I do notice that my daily Dilbert email reaches my work computer a minute before my phone does. I love Dilbert cartoons, and I'll take 'em wherever I can get 'em.

The emails I write from my phone are also shorter than ones I write from a real computer. That's undestandable given that touch-screen typing is slower and less accurate (actually, I'm writing this blog post on my Galaxy Note in portrait view right now!) Perhaps I shouldn't, but I also forgive myself more for grammatical errors, punctuation mistakes and typos for the same reason.

I have freed myself from the tens of email subscriptions to which I signed up over the years. Now the important emails don't get lost among a blizzard of ZDNet, Wired, TechCrunch, and SlashGear emails. This brings me to the next point.

Flipboard
Flipboard is the best thing since wireless internet. Instead of sitting through mountains of subscription emails, all I do now is read them on Flipboard. Flipboard brings news, blogs, Twitter and Facebook to one place. I love browsing the headlines, reading the interesting articles and forwarding the best ones on to my Twitter and/or Facebook friends. The Flipboard "flipping" animation is really cool, and I really like how it finds articles that I would be interested in, based on the articles that I've read and the feeds to which I subscribe. It saves me from opening a bunch of emails and it is also a more fun way of reading interesting stuff.

PC
I found that in the last few months my PC usage at home has dropped considerably. This is both a result of my kids monopolizing the machine and the fact that 99% of what I used to do on the PC, I now do on my phone. Of course there are times that I would like to use a real keyboard and a big screen, but that is a matter of comfort, rather than a necessity. Anyway, the Galaxy Note has a nice, big screen as far as phones go, so there's less of a need to kick my kids off the computer than there was, before.

Contacts
I love that my phone syncs instantly with my Gmail contacts. I no longer store contact info on the phone or on the SIM - if my device is lost or stollen, at least I'll still have access to those details. Somehow I accidentally added all of my Facebook friends to my contact list, so now I feel very popular whenever I have to search for a name.

Calendar
I installed the Google Calendar Sync application on my work PC that syncs my Outlook calendar with my Gmail account. Then, when Gmail syncs with my phone, I have the appointments right there, reminders and all. The reasons for this roundabout method are that I want my phone to remind me about work meetings (a desktop-only reminder is not especially useful when I'm not in my office), and because I don't want the IT people at work syncing my Outlook with my phone. It's a private phone and so I don't really want them messing with it. I also don't want to receive work emails on my phone, which would be very annoying. I'm afraid that if they set the phone to sync the calendar, they will also push email to the phone. So I'm using this rather unorthodox method - but it works very nicely, so I'm happy with it.

Anywhere
Having a phone like this - and it really is difficult to relate to this little computer as a phone - makes it easy to just look things up on the go. I have a 2 GB per month data plan, which sees me through. I love watching TED talks and YouTube clips. I also listen to Internet radio from time-to-time, which also eats bandwidth.

Camera
When I have our little Samsung point-and-shoot, I'm unstoppable. I'll photograph everything and then spend the time at home filtering out the blurry and the embarrassing. But my photography habits have changed with the Galaxy Note. The camera is quite good, and the photos I take automatically sync with Dropbox. But taking photos with this thing is a bit unweildy. First, I have to unlock the phone. Then I have to open the camera app (the icon is on the main screen, so that's pretty easy). Then I have to line up the shot, adjust the zoom and press the shutter button. Unfortunately, the shutter button is located in a place that is too easy to tap by accident, so I end up taking a lot of unwanted pictures. Also, the phone's on/off button is located exactly in the position that a regular camera's shutter button would be. So I often turn the phone off by accident instead of taking a picture. I know that this is just me not getting used to the way it works, but it is frustrating. What this all means is that I don't take as many happy snaps as I would otherwise - to some this is a blessing.

On the up-side, the photos that I do take, and which come out well, are really easy to share. I love that when my baby daughter does something cute and I manage to capture the moment, I can instantly email it to my family so they can all coo and kvell together with me, no matter where they are in the world.

Books
Reading is one of those things I love to do. However, a busy family life doesn't always allow for losing ones-self in the thick plot of a good novel. But traveling between work and home gives me an hour or so where I can enjoy a good story.

I use Kobo reader to read free books published by Gutenberg Press, and I use Wattpad  to read some original material. I would like to read better-quality original stories from Authonomy, but the last time I checked, their site was mobile-unfriendly. The standard of Wattpad stories is often low, they are sometimes painfully cliched and are almost always riddled with spelling errors. But they are still entertainment, of a fashion. And they are free.

Alarm
I know this sounds simple and very noob-ish, but the alarm on my phone is pretty cool. I can set a number of alarms, with different sounds, to go off on the days and times I want. So, for instance, I can set the alarm to wake me at 5.55am on Sunday through Thursday. I can set the alarm to also wake me on Friday, but at 6.30am. On Saturday the phone remains silent and doesn't wake me up. I don't have to remember to set the alarm or turn off the alarm for different days of the week. Let the computer do all the thinking. The built-in app on the phone that does this is really simple. I use it all the time. I am not obsessed with my phone but, yes, I do sleep with it (or next to it...or it next to me...but not in a weird way...)

What's Next?
For the last few weeks I have been carrying around a disk-on-key containing the image file of Android Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS). The instructions on the Internet seem easy to follow, and if I don't screw it up, I could have a more updated phone in an hour or two. Apparently there are a number of major improvements in ICS over my currently installed Android Gingerbread. But I'm chicken. I have a feeling that it won't go as smoothly as the Internet says it will and I'll completely mess up my phone's operating system. Anyway, the next version of Android, Jelly Bean, is just coming out now. I don't know if my phone supports it, but maybe I should wait until a JB version becomes available  for the Galaxy Note and skip ICS altogether. But, as the Aussie saying goes "a change is as good as a holiday", and I could do with a holiday...

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Why Science is Wrong

Leonardo da Vinci was obsessed with manned flight. He never successfully built a flying machine, although he did design a helicopter-like machine that would have worked, had he built it, and he was reported to have successfully tested the first parachute. But a working flying machine eluded him because he was fixated on flapping wings. Had he thought of fixed-wing aircraft, nobody would ever have heard of the Wright brothers.

But you can't blame Leonardo. It is only natural that we look to our environment for clues. The practice of nature-inspired inventions is called biomimicry. Examples of biomimicry abound. Velcro, for example, is an invention inspired by plant burrs. The design of turbine blades is based on the shape of the flippers of humpback whales. Gecko Tape was invented by Manchester University scientists who observed how geckoes are able to climb along ceilings leaving little to no residue.

Biomimicry is a brilliant starting point for inventions. It is a sort of challenge to scientists - can we make something artificial that exists in nature? I recently read an article that engineers have just now managed to construct a set of robotic legs that perfectly mimic the way humans walk. To accomplish this, they used a complicated series of motors and belts. That is truly an amazing feat (no pun intended).

But now comes the "however". Nature is limiting. We need to stop looking at things we see around us for inspiration. It's truly amazing that we can clone a sheep - but we already have sheep. We need to be a bit more creative.

That's why I have invented a new branch of science called 'artaficimimicry'. Artaficimimicry is a challenge to the world's best and brightest to shape nature with our artificial objects. Let's bend nature to our will. Why? Because I want to eat an orange that tastes like Fanta.