Project Glass

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I want Project Glass to succeed. Because this is basically what I am looking for. A small screen for doing augmented reality and data display, mounted onto or embedded into my glasses. I want this for web browsing. I want this for writing code. For all the ambient data I use during the day. Weather, RSS feeds, calendars.

See the frame, with the screen on the side? That frame is gonna be an accessory for people who don’t wear glasses. Mark my words, you will be able to attach this to glasses you already own.

Will this be a standalone appliance? Probably. Based on the communication-centric nature of the video, my guess is that it’s a phone. But just like I can use my phone for 95% of what I want to do, so do I suspect I could with this. Including SSH/Remote Desktop.

I am not worried that Google is going to turn this into a walking billboard, and frankly I’m a little disappointed in the futurists and tech folk that are speaking about that as inevitable. It’s fine to talk about it – after all, it’s one of Google’s cash crops – but Android is no more an advertising mess than any other smartphone OS. Free iPhone apps (at least the ones I like) are full of ads. Pages in safari ask for my location all the time. But Android never had ads built into the notification. I wasn’t autosending texts telling my friends to buy a Nexus or anything. Heck, the iPhone’s default email signature is “Sent from my iPhone.” Elegant, but advertising nonetheless.

I do wonder what the data entry will look like. Maybe some eye-based control (although after writing that, I sort of doubt it), probably a few on-device hardware buttons, and almost certainly a Bluetooth keyboard (just because why wouldn’t you?). I know it’s a sign of crusty, maladjusted nerd to want a Twiddler (soon with Bluetooth!), but I do.

Sadly, I am cynical about what the current “alpha testing” actually looks like. I mean, true, Sergei himself was spotted wearing them in public. But who knows if it was an actual working version or not? My guess is that the current state of it is something woefully unsexy, like an emulator on a phone or a pair of Vuzix glasses connected to a webcam and a computer. Which makes me kind of sad – I was never buying the idea that these would go on sale in 2012, no matter how wide I open my wallet. But I am so. tired. of not being able to buy these awesome concepts.

I mean, I understand that hype is important. But it sometimes feels like designers are operating in a different dimension, content to see an object as “created” as soon as it’s featured on Yanko. Bruce Sterling calls it “design fiction.” And it’s awesome and terrible all at once. It shows us how awesome the world could become while reminding us how our current experiences are still lacking. Which is the nerd’s lot in life.

I doubt even Gruber would say that the iPhone is the best it will ever be. Apple’s gonna keep innovating, sculpting it, molding the experience. And when I’m 50, I’m going to look back at smartphones and laugh, the way I laugh now when I think about the Atari 800 I had when I was 7.

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The end of Japanese mobile phone culture

Wikipedia’s article describing Japanese mobile phone culture is fascinating, but a bit dated at this point. Apparently, the iPhone is now the top seller in Japan (our trip to Japan in October saw evidence of this).

Honestly? It’s kind of depressing. A decade ago, user-facing Japanese cell phone technology was the cutting edge. i-mode, digital wallets, and even television technology placed Japan at the head of the pack. It was a place to which American cell phone nerds looked to find the future of mobile telephony.

And now I run the same phone as many of the people over there. The gap has narrowed. My wife and I were actually in Japan for the launch of the iPhone 4s. And there was a decent amount of hype. We played with them, as a matter of fact, a day before they came out in the US.

Don’t get me wrong, we saw a decent amount of the stereotypical flip phones in Japan, and even a few hybrids (I have never wanted a phone as much as I wanted this one), but the phone company literature I brought back was mostly showing off the new slab-of-glass style smartphones we see everywhere in the US.

The gap’s narrowed significantly, leaving Japanese technological superiority in mobile phones to the infrastructure of their cellular systems, as opposed to the devices themselves. I’m sure many people see this as a good thing, but it actually kind of disappoints me. I miss having Japan as a kind of looking glass into the future. It was special because of the fact that the technology was in use – now we’re left with manufacturer demos and rumors and all sorts of crap that may never actually see the light of day. Alas.

On the other hand, we’re still seeing the trickle of Japanese technologies into the US. NFC is slowly creeping into US phones via the likes of Google and Verizon. Streaming television over 4G networks, useable voice control (Android’s, not Siri. Siri has been almost universally terrible whenever I’ve tried to use it), and retina displays have been great leaps forward in US mobile phone technology. Consider your first cell phone – mine was an Audiovox candybar with a single-line LCD and about 50 minutes a month. Our family shared it. Compare that to your current cell phone.

Mobile phones are evolving. They’re converging into the average of all the phones that manufacturers are making. Of course, this is weighted heavily by popularity, with the iPhone becoming the leader and other manufacturers scrambling to copy their hardware design. I predict we’ll eventually see phones become millimeters-thick buttonless slabs of glass, a la William Gibson.

I admit, the title of this article is a bit melodramatic. Japanese mobile phone culture isn’t ending. But an era certainly is. It’s becoming a part of global smart phone culture. The gap, as I mentioned, is narrowing, and will continue to narrow.

(written on my iPhone)

Bunnie Huang talks CPU speeds, open hardware, and heirloom laptops

Why the Best Days of Open Hardware are Yet to Come

Kind of technical, but an interesting read nonetheless. In a nutshell, Bunnie believes we may see a time (and soon) when CPUs simply can’t increase in speed anymore. As such, we’re going to see more open hardware and possibly even the “heirloomification” (my word) of computers. At this point, there will be no motivation to get a new device, since the guts won’t be any better. Instead, you’ll get a really nice tool with parts that you will replace as necessary.

On the one hand, this is so Sandbenders it hurts. On the other, it kinda freaks me out to think that computing might hit a wall. That’s borderline apocalyptic to nerdkind.

Raspberry Pi

The Raspberry Pi project is really interesting. It’s an attempt to make a low-cost, (mostly) fully-featured ARM box in a format roughly the size of an Arduino. The computer itself has some impressive specs:

  • 700 MHz ARM processor
  • 128 MB RAM
  • SD card reader
  • 2 USB ports
  • HDMI out
All this for $25 (another $10 doubles the RAM and adds an Ethernet port)! Here’s a video of the Raspberry Pi playing Quake 3:

I could see a device similar to this being used as a “clean computer,” deployed in situations where security is important and there is a risk of existing computer systems being compromised (such as voting, or maybe for test-taking, or computer forensics?). In addition, I would absolutely love to take one of these around with me to use as a swiss army knife (server, router, streaming radio, office, etc.) once it’s got a nice case. Perhaps 3D-printed for a buck?

The other thing that interests me about these computers is their low power consumption. They use less than a watt of power, and while they’re currently limited to an AC adapter (included with the device, I believe), I’m sure that in no time people will make battery packs for them. Include a wireless USB dongle, a Twiddler (currently USB, hopefully soon a Bluetooth version will come out), and some kind of display, and you’re looking at a wearable computer that might actually be wearable.

I’m getting excited just thinking about it.

Notebook

Reminds me of the notebook from the Bridge Trilogy that Yamazaki always carried around:

Virtual Light

“The young woman behind the counter wore tattooed bracelets in the form of stylized indigo lizards. He asked for coffee. It arrived in thick heavy porcelain. No two cups here were alike. He took his notebook from his bag, flicked it on, and jotted down a brief description of the cup, of the minute pattern of cracks iii its glazed surface, like a white tile mosaic in miniature. Sipping his coffee, he scrolled hack to the previous day’s notes. The man Skinner’s mind was remarkably like the bridge. Things had accumulated there, around some armature of original purpose, until a point of crisis had been attained and a new program had emerged. But what was that program?

He had asked Skinner to explain the mode of accretion resulting in the current state of the secondary structure. What were the motivations of a given builder, an individual builder? His notebook had recorded the man’s rambling, oblique response, transcribing and translating it.”

“The notebook sometimes had trouble with Skinner’s idioms. In addition, he tended to slur. An expert system in Osaka had suggested he might have sustained a degree of neural damage, perhaps as the result of using street drugs, or of one or more minor strokes. But Yamazaki believed Skinner had simply been too long in proximity to whatever strange attractor had permitted the bridge to become what it had become. ‘Nobody,’ Skinner said, speaking slowly and deliberately at first, as if for emphasis, ‘was using this bridge for anything. After the Little Grande came through, understand?’

Yamazaki nodded, watching the characters of Skinner’s translated speech scroll down the notebook.”

Idoru

 “I’d appreciate it if you could explain to me what we’re doing here,” Laney said. He saw that Yamazaki was scribbling frantically on the screen of a small notebook, the lightpen flashing faintly in the dark. “Are you taking this down?” Laney asked.

“Sorry, no. Making note of waitress’ costume.”

“Why?” Laney asked.

“Sorry,” said Yamazaki, saving what he’d written and turning off the notebook. He tucked the pen carefully into a recess on the side. “I am a student of such things. It is my habit to record ephemera of popular culture. Her costume raises the question: does it merely reflect the theme of this club, or does it represent some deeper response to trauma of earthquake and subsequent reconstruction?”

“The woman replied that her company produced short-run furniture and accessories, lamps in particular. The actual manufacturing took place at any number of different locations, mainly in Northern California. Cottage industry. One maker might contract to do two hundred granite bases, another to lacquer and distress two hundred steel tubes in a very specific shade of blue. She brought out a notebook and showed him animated sketches. All of the things had a thin, spiky look that made him think of African insects he’d seen on the Nature Channel.”

All Tomorrow’s Parties

About an hour later, two men in white Tyvek coveralls showed up in an unmarked, surgically clean white van and went to work. Rydell would’ve liked to watch them get the smart tag off, but there was a run of shoplifters that night and he didn’t get to see what they did to it. They didn’t use scrapers or solvents, he knew that. They used a notebook and a couple of adhesive probes. Basically, he guessed, they reprogrammed it, messed with its code, and after they left, the graffiti-eaters were back out there, slurping down the latest Chupacabra iconography.

He locked the door, put the CLOSED sign up, and went into the back room where he found the boy still seated, cross-legged, as he’d left him, his face hidden by the massive old eyephones cabled to the open notebook in his lap.

“Hey,” Fontaine said, “How’s fishin’? You been finding anything you think we should bid on?”

The boy continued to monotonously click a single key on the notebook, the eyephones bobbing slightly in time.

“Hey,” Fontaine said. “You gonna get netburn.”

He squatted beside the boy, wincing at the pain it brought to his knees. He rapped once on the gray cowl of the eyephones, then gently removed them. The boy’s eyes blinked furiously, swimming in the vanished light of the miniature video screens. His hand clicked the notebook a few times, then stopped.

“Let’s see what you found,” Fontaine said, taking the notebook from him. He absently touched a few keys, curious to see what the boy might have bookmarked.