Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Implications of Technology

As I was checking through the various tech blogs I follow this morning, I came across this video on Wired, focused on the potential implications of having self-driving cars. (First of all, can I just say how cool  it is that I can write a sentence like that, and it's actually believable--that we'll be living in a place where the cars can drive themselves, and it might only be a decade or two off? That's amazing.) For reference, here's the video:

Did you watch it? Good. Then you don't need me to tell you how it focused on how self-driving cars might start to exhibit flocking tendencies. The mental image he describes--of a bunch of cars shying away from an aggressive, non-controlled sports car--is just fascinating to me, and I could totally see that happening. Whether it will or not . . . who knows?

That's the thing about advancing technology. It seems to rarely go the way we think it will. Innovation is innovation because it's unexpected. If you could plan for it, it wouldn't be innovation. I imagine this is also why advances in technology rarely feel as awesome and incredible as we dreamed they would be. You have one dream, and reality is different. But every now and then, I love taking a step back and realizing just how marvelous it all can be.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

I see a tall, handsome book in your future....

Escher's Crystal Ball
Netflix users will be very familiar with LibraryThings new interactive online reader advisory service, BookPsychic, because it runs along very similar lines to the movie site's rating system. Offered a tasty array of book covers on the BookPsychic page, readers rate them from one to five stars. (Or, choose other options, such as "not interested" and "save for later".) Book covers continue to pop up, arcade style, and when you feel you've had enough fun for one session (it's kind of addictive, I found) you ask for a recommendation based on your ratings. Ta daaaa! A custom list of books is prepared, just for you.
 LibraryThing is partnering with real libraries (Portland Public Library, right here in Maine, is the first to go live with it - cool beans!) to connect BookPsychic to their own online catalogs, which means you can see which of your recommendations are available at your very own library.
You can play with BookPsychic anonymously, or set up an account if you want your ratings and recommendations saved.
Go ahead and give it a try: I predict you'll like it.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The PC/Mac Switch

I'm away on vacation, but I wanted to pop in to give you a little update on the adventures I've been having switching from a PC to a Mac. Because I know that Apple wants you all to think that it's a seamless transition, and that Macs can do anything a PC can.

Well, they can't.

Not easily, at least. Yes, you can buy dualboot and a Windows license, and then you literally can do anything a PC can do, since you're running Windows. (Although I'd argue in that case, why didn't you just buy a PC. They're cheaper, you know . . .) And for security reasons, the university didn't want me dualbooting, so that was out. OSX or bust, baby.

The big pains have been finding new software that will run some of the open source stuff I did on PC. As a PC user, you get used to being able to download any old program and use it--you're using the platform used by the bulk of the world, after all. Programs get built for it all the time. But if the software's going to run either on PC or Mac, PC is the hands down favorite. So I had to come up with workarounds for that.

I've also discovered that I need to reformat my external hard drive, if I want to be able to write to it from my Mac. It's set up for PCs, and that doesn't work on the Mac side of things. If it were a smaller hard drive, it wouldn't be a big deal, but I've got 400+ GB of stuff on that drive . . .

Still need to figure out what I'm going to do about that. I'll work on that when I get back from vacation . . .

Printing is different, Word and Excel have strange dissimilarities . . . It ain't all peaches and cream.

That said, I'm still enjoying the Mac, and I'm still glad I made the switch--if for nothing more than reminding myself how things work on this side of the computer divide. As a techie, I get used to doing anything I want on computers, easily. It's good to remember how hard things can be sometimes, when something you think will be really easy turns out to be very difficult.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Another Serving of Book Art

Click on over to Designbloom  for more abstract book art by Brit artist Jonathan Callan.  Many of his works consist of layers of books screwed together. Some, like the one below, are room-sized installations. There is something exuberantly organic about them - they remind me of wildly colored cross-sections of trees:

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Wonders of Modern Technology

So check out this video. It's a bit heavy on the tech-ese (I got lost a few times during the explanations), but the bottom line is that our technology is to the point that a video camera can look at you and tell what your pulse rate is. No wires. No sensors. Just an iPad camera. Not even a great camera! How does it do this? "Magic" seems a good enough answer to me, but it appears that as our body pumps blood through our system, our skin color changes. It's an imperceptible change to our vision, but computers can tell the difference. At that point, it's easy--just count how many times the person is changing color per minute.

We live in a crazy world, my friends. I love technology. Now if I can just get a hoverboard and a robot maid, I'll be pretty much set . . .

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Dr. Seuss: Mad Man?

Did you know that before he gained fame by drawing Star-bellied Sneeches and a Cat in the Hat, Theodore Seuss Geisel earned a living as an advertising illustrator? His artwork seems weirdly out of place for those of us who might more readily expect his signature style on a can of Who Hash than on a bag of Holly Sugar - but even geniuses have to pay the rent. Dr. Seuss's 17 year working relationship with products like Flit bug repellent supported his family through the Depression and paved the way for his later success as an author. Here are few images from his Mad Men days, and click over to Fast Company to see an entire gallery.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Online Passwords and Account Security

I just came across this absolutely frightening account on Wired of a man--a techie--who lost access to his email, his Amazon account, his Apple ID, the entire contents of his laptop and Apple devices--all due to some hackers who were bored. What scares me the most about this is that it happened to a guy who is "with it" when it comes to technology. He writes about it for Gizmodo, for crying out loud. I immediately started looking at my own security setup to see if the same thing could happen to me. It couldn't--mine's a bit different--but it's not out of the realm of possibility that there's another, easy way to get past the security I have set up.

When you get down to it, I'm tech-savvy, but not nearly as tech-savvy as some of the other people out there. Most of the time, I just take an approach of security in anonymity. There are billions of people out there--what are the odds that a hacker is going to take interest in me? I realize this is a really bad approach to take, but at the same time, there are so many ways for hackers to get access to my information, that it's just easier for me not to worry about it.

That's not completely true, of course. I take care with my passwords--choosing some really outlandish ones for certain sites. But it's articles like this that remind me what I think is an unimportant site might end up being key. Lose access to my AppleID? What's the worst that could happen? Lose some of my progress in my iPad games? Then I read this, and I discover it's not that straightforward. Hackers are getting skilled at following you from one account to another, it seems. Leveraging one account to get more information about you so they can go to a different account, and just follow the breadcrumbs along.

And the more public you are online--the more valuable your information becomes--the likelier you are to become the focus of hacker attacks. Thankfully, I'm not at that point yet, but that also doesn't rule out the random acts of hacking. In the case on the Wired article, the hacker had just liked the guy's Twitter handle. He had no idea the man was connected to Gizmodo and other tech places.

I don't know what the takeaway from this is. Certainly that we need to take more care with our online data--awareness will help improve security. But can you ever be 100% secure? I don't think so. In the end, it's important to remain vigilant and do all you can.