Tag Archives: Technology

Would You Like a Foil Hat to Match?

I once wrote a dystopian story in which the human race, as a result of constant cell phone use, had mutated into two forms.  One form was adapted to texting while the other was built for talking on the phone.  Of course, being humans, each group hated the other for being different.

Well, I’m happy to say that it looks like that story may not come true!

There is a concern that the emanations from cell phones and computers may be dangerous to our health.  In the case of men, who often hold or carry phones at belt height or use laptops, which as the name suggests are often sited close to the lap, there is evidence that emanations can impair the motility of sperm and even cause genetic alterations.  In fact, there are medical practitioners who are raising red flags about the effects of long term exposure to wi-fi and other forms of radiation.

But it turns out we have a White Knight!  Entrepreneur reports a crowdfunding exercise started by a British physics teacher to produce something called “Wireless Armour” boxer briefs.

I’m not making this up.

Wireless Armour knickers are cotton with some sort of silver mesh woven in that blocks 99.99% of harmful radiation.

As you might guess, protection isn’t cheap.  The introductory offer (which also includes a personal call from the physics teacher) is something called “The Weekly Armour Set.”  It costs about NZ$300 and includes 8 pairs of nickers.  As the promotion says, one for each day and one for emergency.  I guess you never know when an exciting new app might make someone mess their Armour.

It will be interesting to see if the Wireless Armour idea catches on.  It’s scary to think that someone might Tweet that they are wearing their Wireless Armour or how they feel.  Or worse, post a selfie.

The best we can hope for is that the radiation issue gets some serious study and the products are designed and built to protect the user so the user doesn’t have to resort to silver lined underwear.

I Wish My Daddy Had Worn Wireless Armour!


How Have We Survived Without This Stuff?

As you know I am always on the lookout for interesting applications of technology to improve my quality of life, so my pulse quickened the other day when I saw the headline “Ten Essential Travel Gadgets.”

Unfortunately, for the most part, the article proved to be a big disappointment.  Mostly it was newer, imperceptibly different iThings: a solar powered device charger and stuff like that.

But there was one thing that caught my eye.  It embodied the concepts of “must have” and “essential.” (Incidentally, in the tech world, “must have” and “essential” do not mean the same thing).

It’s a jacket called the “Fleece 7.0.”  (You know it’s high-tech because it has a version number).  In fact, the advertising material says that the jacket, five years in the making, is so innovative that they skipped version 6.0 and went right to 7!  Do they really think people believe that kind of hype?

Anyway, this jacket has 23 pockets of varying size to accommodate all your technology toys and the largest, unsurprisingly, can accommodate an iPad.  They have patented the pocket design as the “PadPocket™.”


But wait, there’s more.

There is also something called the “Quick Draw Pocket,” patent pending.  It allows you to “access your Smartphone through the Clear Touch fabric (i.e., plastic) so you don’t even need to take your hand out of your pocket to use your phone.”  They believe “this will fundamentally change the way you interact with your mobile devices.”

Times were that a person doing something frenetic with their hand in their pocket in public would be arrested.

But now they are just connected.  To everyone other than the people they are with, that is.

Who would have thought that the day would come when our clothing would be billed as “Compatible with iPad.”

But before you run out and upgrade to a Fleece Version 7, you should be aware that it is already obsolete.

Yes.  Something on the what’s hot list has already been rendered irrelevant by something new and improved.

I give you Google Glass.

In case you’ve been away from Planet Earth and haven’t heard of GG, it is a device which for $1500 will enable you to look like The Collector in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome and will give you a totally hands-free, heads up digital life.  Who needs a jacket with pockets for all your technology when you can wear it on your face?


Basically it’s a pair of glasses with only one lens, which is your heads up display.  It also has a camera and a microphone.  You can take a picture or video of anything you see and send it to your friends.  It’s got a GPS so you can see where you are and where you are going.  And it’s got lots of web surfing capability.  The promotional video shows a person in a in a Chinese market who wants to bargain.  They “ask” GG how to say the price they want to offer in Chinese!

And when I say “ask,” I really mean it.  Because it’s heads up and hands free, you talk to it!  How cool is that?

GG is being heralded as an important step in our journey to what is called “ubiquitous computing” which means constant connectivity and, I fear, in the hands of Google, ubiquitous advertising.

But it’s the camera that makes GG even cooler and scarier. The promotional video shows a guy sky diving and filming the experience and sending his friends a real time video so they can have as much fun as him and be suitably impressed.

GG isn’t yet widely available but it is already generating two big debates.  The first is about privacy issues and the second is about whether Google will partner with a fashion designer to develop cooler designs for the eyewear because some people think you look geeky when you wear it.

Guess which issue is getting the most attention.

But it’s the privacy and copyright issues that are the most interesting.  Think about it.  Kids will want to wear them in class because they won’t have to take notes.  But teachers might not that idea because school administrators could then observe them.  So could the government.

People will want to wear them to concerts so they can record the whole thing.  And movies too.

And what about when your boss gives you your annual performance review?  Will one or both of you be wearing Google Glasses to record the moment for posterity?

But even beyond privacy, what about common sense.  If texting while driving is an issue, what will happen when people start GGing while driving?

I can’t think of a single use of GG that might not violate peoples’ privacy, result in a law suit or become evidence in a potential lawsuit (e.g., because you are updating your FB status, you forget to pull the ripcord on your parachute).

But that’s not going to stop GG from becoming a necessity of life if that fashion designer can make them look cool enough.

Art For Art’s Sake?

A few years ago, the University of Auckland changed the name of its Department of Fine Arts to The National Institute for the Creative Arts and Industries.  The Institute includes things like music, art, dance and architecture.

I remember talking to some people at the time and being the only person who didn’t think that this was a Good Idea.  I was politely vilified for being old-fashioned, reactionary and out of step with reality.

My theory, then and now, is that although artists and creative types need to have some sort of financial support, they should not be organized around a profit motive, and the term “creative industries” sounds a little too entrepreneurial to me.

I welcome discussion on the topic, but I remain firmly convinced that “fine arts” are things like chamber music and Syd Barrett, while reality TV and Lady Gaga are Creative Industries.  Or maybe just industries in themselves.

But it turns out that there is an even darker side to the welding of fine art and industry, and that is the blurring of the line between industrial waste and art.

Consider two recent offerings from artists down under.

Back in May, a group of artists who call themselves “Greatest Hits” put together an exhibition called “De Facto Standard.” It was displayed at a Melbourne gallery whose “programming foregrounds engaged artistic practice which is challenging, experimental, exploratory, and diverse.”

It turns out that the exhibit is the air.  Well, actually, the scent in the air which will be “the uniquely appealing scent of a freshly unwrapped MacBook, iPad or Apple TV.”

Yes. You go into an art gallery and instead of looking at a painting or sculpture you smell the air. And you are transported because the smell reminds you of the time you took your last Apple product out of the box.

Yes, but is it art?

According to the article I read, the artists engaged the services of a company called Air Aroma “to scientifically recreate the smell of an Apple unboxing.” Unboxing!

It was a big challenge and French perfume chemists were enlisted to create “the smell of the plastic wrap covering the box, printed ink on the cardboard, the smell of paper and plastic components within the box and of course the aluminum laptop which has come straight from the factory where it was assembled in China.”

The way they did it was the artists shipped a previously unopened Apple Macbook Pro computer to the “fragrance lab.”  There it was “unboxed,” and the odor that emanated from the box was sniffed by the “professional perfume makers” and they drew on their experience to pull together the component scents and voila, Eau de Unboxed Apple was created.  The perfume makers didn’t get to keep the computer and the artists brag that it travelled 55,000 kilometers around the world as part of the project.

If, like me, you are a philistine and think that art is painting a picture or making a sculpture or writing a poem, you will be disinclined to include in the art category the act of sending a piece of equipment to a perfumer and having them replicate the smell.  It all just seems a little too, well, industrial.

According to my dictionary, “art” is defined as “the conscious use of skills and creative imagination in the production of aesthetic objects.”  And this seems to fail on every point.

But I have an even bigger objection.

Think about it.  Human effort (and fossil fuels to fly the thing 55,000 kilometers) are being expended to blow into the air the concatenated smell of a bunch of arguably carcinogenic chemical smells.  And why?  Because it is a smell that some people find particularly appealing.

And that is the key issue.  Who are “some people?” It’s impossible to tell for sure, but based on the number of Macbooks sold, less than 1% of the population of the world have one.  So this smell isn’t exactly as known and loved as something like freshly baked bread.

Not only that, doesn’t the whole idea of capturing the smell of a trophy purchase when you open the box seem a little bit materialistic?  I mean, why did you buy the computer?  Presumably to do something, ideally, productive.  Maybe even artistic.

But I must be wrong, because in the world of Creative Industries, Apple products appear to be as inspiring as the Last Supper was to Leonardo.

Not to be outdone, a NZ artist has, according to the article I read “stunned the New York art world with his series of photographs depicting ‘Deep Fried Gadgets’.”

Yes.  iPods, iPhones and laptops that really look like they have been deep fried and placed on plates in order to look as if they are being served for dinner have been photographed and the photos are on display. Yum yum.

I’m not saying that we have the term “Creative Industries” to blame, and I don’t want to appear snobbish, but I sort of wish that artists drew their inspiration from more human experiences than the latest Apple product. It’s one thing if an artist makes something interesting out of old car parts or junk.  That’s creative. Buying something and opening the box is just industry.  What do you think?

Immortality, Anyone?

Have you heard about the Russia 2045 project?

They just finished a big conference and here is how founder, Dmitry Itskov describes it:  “in brief: the most important thing is that we want to eliminate death and disease for all—to overcome the limitations of our protein-based body; to find a way out of the chain of various crises our civilization is facing.”

On the surface, that sounds pretty good.  Until you realize that if these guys eliminate death, the world is going to get pretty crowded in a hurry.  Not only that, one has to wonder if they will give the “cure” away for free or if you’ll have to pay for it.  In which case, “the 1%” are probably going to be the first (and maybe the only) ones in line.  So instead of solving crises of civilization, this could cause a few more.

I did a little research and found out more about the plan.  It turns out that if Russia 2045 is successful, we won’t be sitting around forever playing Angry Birds and Unfriending people.  The way in which death will be eliminated is by implanting human brains into robots which won’t be subject to things that usually kill people.

The timeline of the project calls for finding a way to “surgically transplant a human consciousness into a robot body within 10 years.”  The current thinking is that they will “upload” peoples’ minds into robots without surgery “leaving the bodies as empty husks as their owners ‘live on.’”

The next step will be to develop indestructible bodies.  These new bodies “will have a perfect brain-machine interface to allow control and a human brain life support system so the brain can survive outside the body.”

And if that’s not enough, the last part will be to create an artificial brain.  Presumably, you will be able to get your hands on the artificial brain and body of your choice, upload your brain, and, voila, immortality.

But wait, there’s more!  Ultimately, they hope to come up with a holographic body rather than a physical body.  As Dmitry Itskov says, “Holograms give plenty of advantages. You can walk through walls, move at the speed of light.  Remember in Star Wars, Obi-Wan’s hologram? That was pretty amazing.” 

The web site states:  “This will open a new epoch – an epoch of immortal neo-humans and super-humans. The epoch of a new civilization – the future.”

How does that grab you?  An epoch of immortal neo-humans and super-humans.

Sounds to me like we’re going to need a John Connor or two.

I remember a philosophy class in which we read a fascinating story called “Where Am I?” by a contemporary philosopher named Daniel Dennett.  In that story, Dennett is supposed to go on a mission on which he will be exposed to rays that might damage brain cells but not body cells.  So they take his brain out and put it in a “vat” with life support.  Then they hook up the brain and body with a two way radio so that they can communicate—but over unlimited distances.  DD looks normal, except that he has an antenna in his head and his brain is no longer physically in his body.

Because Dennett is a philosopher, the story then poses all sorts of interesting scenarios that muddle up the question of “where am I” as the brain and body go their separate ways but are still, effectively, one being. 

For example, if the body were to go out and commit a crime, who should be punished for the crime?  The brain presumably thought it up, but the body did the crime. 

It led to a lot of interesting class discussions but nothing like those that Russia 2045’s plans will probably generate.  The project organizers have all sorts of ideas about how robot bodies with human brains could fight fires, work in mines and go out and kill each other in wars (what’s the point of that?).  And of course, there is the whole issue of immortality.

Even without robotic augmentation, there is a chance that I’ll still be around in 2045 to see if they manage to succeed.  But to be honest, I’m not sure I’d want to stick around much longer if they do.

And anyway, the whole human/machine interface/confusion thing is already being done, and this is the sort of thing that makes you wonder about the human race in the first place. 

I saw another article that talked about how the singer Kei$ha, (who believes that she was JFK in a past life and wears some of her placenta in a locket around her neck to ground herself), has decided to replace some of her hair with metal studs.  There was a picture of her that showed what looked like thumbtacks stuck in a shaved area of her head, i.e., like a robot waiting for a brain. 

Now you may be wondering why someone would do that.

The answer, according to the article, is that Lady Gaga’s outrageous costumes and behaviour have made it “hard for young talent to stand out from the crowd.”   So studs in the head are apparently the only recourse. 

There is no mention of the possibility that a singer might stand out by being, well, a good singer. 

So although the ethical questions of implanting brains into robots and vice versa are fascinating, they are dwarfed by the biggest question around the whole enterprise.  Specifically, if this is the sort of brain function that is rampant, why are we going to spend a lot of time and effort figuring out how to download it into a machine?

Technology Strikes Again!

Great news on the technology front!  For those of us who are insufficiently beautiful to make it into Beautiful People, there is a Plan B.

A new service, known as FakeGirlfriend allows you to pretend you have a girlfriend even if you don’t.  There are also fake boyfriend services available.

Here’s how it works. You create a contact for your “Girlfriend” on your cell phone and where you would put in a phone number for a real person, you put in the FakeGirlfriend phone number that appears on their web site.  That’s it.

Then, when you are out with your friends and for some reason decide that you want to demonstrate that you have a significant other, you send a text to your “girlfriend” and “she” sends back a loving text to you!  Or as the FakeGirlfriend web site puts it, you get a “girlfriend-esque” message.

As you know, I’m always on the lookout for new ways in which technology is improving our lives.  Admittedly, I’ve fallen behind in scouting the technosphere for new and exciting technology solutions to life’s pressing problems since Angry Birds came along.  But FakeGirlfriend demands our attention.

First of all, let’s look at the philosophy behind FakeGirlfriend.  Based on the website, this app is designed for people who have actual friends in the real world but feel like losers among those friends because they don’t have “girlfriends.”  FakeGirlfriend’s objective is to make those friends think that the user has a girlfriend.

I guess that the idea that you can maintain the fiction of a fake girlfriend by showing text messages to your friends is plausible in a social networking world of virtual relationships.  But FakeGirlfriend is designed to work in the real world and that’s where I’m confused.  What does it say about how we are supposed to interact with our friends.

Worse, if the idea behind FakeGirlfriend catches on, the underlying premise of most sitcoms and Hollywood romantic comedies will have suddenly been rendered null and void because there won’t be any more need for stories about blind dates and people looking for Mr/Ms Right.

Here’s the scenario I picture.  Everyone is out for the evening.  It may be a group of guys or mixed couples and singles.  One guy feels like a loser because he is a single person.  So he ostentatiously whips out his phone and says, “Hmmm, I wonder how my hot girlfriend is doing.”  He covertly calls FakeGirlfriend.  Moments later, his ringtone (which is probably the Star Wars theme) tells him that he has a text message.  With exaggerated coolness he studies the message and says, “Oh, isn’t that sweet.  She misses me.”  And then, presumably, he shows the text to his friends. Because otherwise they might get suspicious.  And presumably they all say, “Oh.  You are so lucky to have a girlfriend like that.”  And life is good again.

Am I missing something here?  Is it just me or is there something needy and
desperate about the whole process?

And more importantly, wouldn’t a potential user of the service say, “Who’s that supposed to fool?”  I know that excessive playing of video games can impair the development of the frontal cortex which controls executive functions and the ability to link cause and effect.  But let’s face it, everyone knows that eventually someone is going to ask, “Why didn’t your girlfriend come tonight?” Or “Why don’t you bring her tomorrow?” Or, very possibly, “If she’s so great, how come you’re hanging around with us?”

The whole idea of a fictional girlfriend sounds like way too much trouble.  Wouldn’t it be easier to put down the cell phone and find a real girlfriend rather than expend the energy to come up with excuses as to why the fake girlfriend is never around?  Not only that, maybe one of your friends has someone they want to introduce you to but they figure there’s no point because you are smitten by this woman who sends you loving text messages.  Assuming you still do have friends if you make a point of showing them “girlfriend-esque” text messages all the time.

Let’s assume that because of my general inability to “get it” when it comes to technology, there is another dimension to FakeGirlfriend that I haven’t been able to figure out.  Maybe  in the world of people who have grown up with Tamagotchis the idea doesn’t  sound so crazy.  But the next time a friend shows me a text message from his absent but excruciatingly hot girlfriend, I’m going to demand some corpus delicti.

FreeDigitalPhotos. Net

They’re At It Again!

You remember our friends over at Beautiful People? They are the dating site that only accepts beautiful people. Acceptance of prospective members is contingent on them being voted sufficiently beautiful by the existing membership.

They made news a while ago when they whacked about 5,000 members who had posted updated pictures of themselves. Based on those pictures, the arbiters of beauty decided that the members in question had put on too much weight to justify continued status as beautiful people. The founder of the site famously pointed out, “letting fatties roam the site is a direct threat to our business model.”

A few months later, the site made news when they decided to diversify and set up a sperm and egg bank which would be a repository of beautiful DNA. They had a moral dilemma when the question of whether non-members (i.e., ugly people) would be able to access the repository. In a move which was undeniably a big step forward for the human race, the same guy this time famously said, “Initially, we hesitated to widen the offering to non-beautiful people. But everyone — including ugly people — would like to bring good-looking children into the world, and we can’t be selfish with our attractive gene pool.”

Well in spite of them clearly being altruistic, they have run into a small problem. Somebody hacked into their system and disabled the module that makes the yes/no decision after the members have voted on a potential new member. As a result, 30,000 people were erroneously accepted into the Beautiful People fold!

Talk about a cruel hoax. Imagine being accepted into the rarefied world of Beautiful People one day and the next day being turfed out. Because of a computer glitch!

The problem was discovered in two ways. First, someone in management noticed that the acceptance rate was running at an unheard of 100%. Second, and more heart-warmingly, there was a raft of complaints from the existing members who, upon seeing the pictures of their new colleagues, complained about eroding standards.

All 30,000 people have been summarily removed from the rolls. Not only has their membership fee been cheerfully refunded, they have also been offered free counselling to help them deal with the emotional trauma. According to the article I read, 400 people have taken advantage of that offer.

The people who were delisted have also been given the option of re-applying to see if they are, in fact, beautiful after all.

No one knows exactly what caused the problem. The Beautiful People management claim it was a computer virus, and are calling it, no surprise here, the Shrek Virus. But computer experts say there is no known computer virus that would be so selective. They suspect either a disgruntled person who had previously been rejected or more likely a disgruntled employee, hard as it is to believe that the people running Beautiful People could have rubbed someone the wrong way. After all, the founder claimed to be “very sorry” and sympathized with the losers “who believed, albeit for a short time, that they were beautiful.”

As scary as that statement is, what is scarier is that 400 people needed counselling because they believed it.

Another Technological Leap Forward!

As you know, I am always on the lookout to identify new technology applications that will improve our lives.  And today we have a major!  It’s called ShameBeGone.  Interested already, aren’t you?

I couldn’t believe it when I read about it.  ShameBeGone is a service that handles unpleasant situations for you.  By the best method yet invented to arbitrate human differences—e-mail!

Let’s say you have a problem.  You forgot your mother’s birthday, kind of hard to do these days with Facebook and all.  Or maybe you want to break up with your  current partner and unfriending them didn’t send a strong enough message.  Or maybe you got roaring drunk at your nephew’s first birthday party and broke his new iPad and you feel bad.

All you have to do it tell the nice people at  ShameBeGone all about it and they will fire off an e-mail to the parties involved and voila!  Problem solved.

As the web site says:

Worry no more!
How it works:

You tell us about a situation that you just can’t deal with.
• You tell us what you’d be willing to pay to have it fixed.
• If we accept, we draft an email for you to send to fix up that mess.

You cut, paste and send—and then the shame is gone. It’s just that easy.

That’s the way it is in the techno world.  An e-mail is all it takes to fix everything.  And in order to make sure they get the e-mail just right, you can tell them how you want the whole thing to end.  To do that, you just check off the desired outcome. 




A kindly brush-off





Once you’ve described your problem and indicated the desired outcome, you then have to tell them what it’s worth to you to get the problem fixed.  There is actually a line on the web page that says “Tell us what you are willing to pay ______”

I am intrigued that the customer gets to determine the price.  That is a unique business model but I can’t help but wonder whether the ShameBeGone people have some sort of internal algorithm that pegs the amount of shame reduction they provide to the price you are willing to pay. 

I don’t know about you, but I’d be afraid to go cheap because you could well make matters worse!  And, by the way, if you make matters worse, you’re on your own.  The web site has a fairly all-encompassing hold harmless clause that says they aren’t providing legal, or any other kind of advice and they are not responsible for what happens.  So be warned.  If you pay a mega bucks to send an e-mail to your favourite reality TV star and your desired outcome is sex, you have no recourse if nothing happens.  

ShameBeGone Operators Are Standing By!

Although this is clearly a major leap forward in our effort to cocoon ourselves in technology and avoid actual real world interaction with other humans, it is clear that we still have a long way to go.  This technology needs to be available in an iPhone app and instead of e-mails, texts and tweets should be permitted. 

I envision different modules designed for different segments of the population.  For example, I think the parenting module would get a lot of use.  Instead of dealing with the kids in real time, parents could have ShameBeGone handle this unnecessary distraction from Facebook and Masterchef.  No longer will parents have to feel guilty by saying no.  Outsource it to ShameBeGone.  Desired outcomes could range from “Eat your vegetables” to “You’re grounded,” to “Find a new home.”

It would also be a blessing to children to be able to communicate this way with their parents.  After all, it’s rather stressful to have to face your parents and tell them that you are pregnant and/or quitting school or have been kicked out of school or arrested.  Desired outcomes could range from “You’re forgiven,” to “It’s OK.  Here’s a new iPhone.”

A Good Time for ShameBeGone

And that’s just the home version.  The workplace would be so much simpler if
ShameBeGone could handle all of our dealings with superiors, subordinates,
clients, customers and suppliers.

The more I think about it, the more I think that this application will solve virtually all of the world’s problems.  Instead of sending armies to invade each
other, countries could use ShameBeGone to send e-mails to each other expressing disapproval.  Instead of blowing things up terrorists could tell everyone what’s really bothering them and ShameBeGone would spin out an e-mail designed to generate the desired outcome.

There just doesn’t seem to be any limit to what technology can accomplish!