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kottke.org posts about technology

A Japanese smartphone you can wash with soap and water

posted by Tim Carmody   Jan 31, 2017

Smartphones have been getting more water-resistant for a while now, but this is pretty crazy. Via Ina Fried at Recode, who writes:

The phone is a successor to an earlier handset that worked only with certain types of hand soap. The washable phone can be used with a range of soaps, including foaming body wash and hand soap… Waterproof phones have long been a thing in Japan, so it’s not too much of a stretch to think there might be an appetite for soap-proof devices.

In the US, smartphones have gotten so ubiquitous as to be boring — all of them big, flat, and offering slightly different versions of the same thing. I don’t know — maybe that’s an unfair characterization. But I wish the market were just a little weirder, wilder, offering different things to different people with different needs and lives.

We Work Remotely

Wired in the 1990s

posted by Tim Carmody   Jan 31, 2017

I used to work at Wired, and later at The Verge, and at both places we had a lot of reverence for “Wired in the 90s.” You’d say it fast like that, too — “wired-in-the-90s” — and it was a universally recognized shorthand for relevance, cool, slick design, smart writers, the “culture of now.” I suspect it probably stands for that for a lot of Kottke readers too.

Yesterday, for reasons unknown, my RSS reader spit up a random Kevin Kelly post from 2012 called “Predicting the Present” that excerpts a bunch of quotes from the early years of Wired. Here are some of them (I tried to pick fun ones):

We as a culture are deeply, hopelessly, insanely in love with gadgetry. And you can’t fight love and win.

Jaron Lanier, Wired 1.02, May/June 1993, p. 80

The idea of Apple making a $200 anything was ridiculous to me. Apple couldn’t make a $200 blank disk.

— Bill Atkinson, Wired 2.04, Apr 1994, p. 104

Marc Andreessen will tell you with a straight face that he expects Mosaic Communications’s Mosaic to become the world’s standard interface to electronic information.

— Gary Wolf, Wired 2.10, Oct 1994, p. 116

The human spirit is infinitely more complex than anything that we’re going to be able to create in the short run. And if we somehow did create it in the short run, it would mean that we aren’t so complex after all, and that we’ve all been tricking ourselves.

— Douglas Hofstadter, Wired 3.11, Nov 1995, p. 114

Of all the prospects raised by the evolution of digital culture, the most tantalizing is the possibility that technology could fuse with politics to create a more civil society.

— Jon Katz, Wired 5.04, Apr 1997

It is the arrogance of every age to believe that yesterday was calm.

— Tom Peters, Wired 5.12, Dec 1997

Separately, Ingrid Burrington was leafing through a 1996 issue of Wired and found this beauty:

AI-based investment systems will cut a swath through Wall Street, automating thousands of jobs or downgrading their skills.

— Clive Davidson, freely quoting Ron Liesching, Wired 4.12, Dec 1996

The Miracle on Google Street View

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 22, 2015

In the New Yorker, Matthew J.X. Malady writes about finding his deceased mother standing outside her house on Google Street View and, more generally, when technology clumsily reminds us of loved ones who are no longer with us.

When I reached my mother’s house, that all changed. First, I noticed that a gigantic American flag had been affixed to the mailbox post at the corner of the driveway. That was new. Then I spotted the fire pit in the front yard that my mom and her husband, my stepfather, used for block parties, and the grill on the patio, and my mom’s car. And then there she was, out front, walking on the path that leads from the driveway to the home’s front door. My mom.

At first I was convinced that it couldn’t be her, that I was just seeing things. When’s the last time you’ve spotted someone you know on Google Maps? I never had. And my mother, besides, is no longer alive. It couldn’t be her.

Facebook in particular has been dinged for inadvertent algorithmic cruelty, but they have recently been making strides in a better direction. (via @tcarmody)

Conversation clock

posted by Ainsley Drew   Apr 01, 2009

Karrie Karahalios created a program that interprets conversations and generates real-time visual feedback. A social mirror of sorts.

The “clock” shows the progress of the talk. Three times a second, a color bar pops up showing who was speaking. The louder the speech, the longer the bar. Interruptions are shown as overlapping color bars. Every minute, a new circle of bars is rendered in a visual record akin to the rings of tree trunk.

Referred to as a “conversation clock,” it’s already been tested with kids with low-functioning autism, teaching them to vocalize. One speech specialist thinks it can help kids with Asperger’s, who tend to dominate conversations, learn not to “monologue” so much.

Marriage counselors are also using it to teach your husband how to shut up for five minutes.

Chick click

posted by Ainsley Drew   Mar 31, 2009

I’m a classy roustabout, but I’m not sure I’d want to accessorize my computer with the pink-accented Swarovski Crystal mouse.

By manipulating the design of an item used everyday into a sensual, feminine form, we have created a personal gesture for the urban lifestyle of the working woman.

Kind of the opposite of the more organic, but equally impractical Mouse Mouse.

via design bloom

Giant fire-breathing robot

posted by Ainsley Drew   Mar 31, 2009

Sure, it looks like Astro Boy with heartburn, but Kenji Yanobe’s Giant Torayan is not the kind of toy you leave with just any kid.

This GIANT TORATAN doll is the ultimate child’s weapon, as it sings, dances, breathes fire, and follows only those orders given by children.

Masterminded at Nagoya Institute of Technology, its Command Device uses voice-recognition technology to differentiate between instructions given by adults versus those given by younger evil geniuses.

Half-dragon, half-Mary Poppins, all awesome.

“Thank You, Vocoder”

posted by Ainsley Drew   Mar 27, 2009

“Vocoders are an instantly recognizable synthesizer sound, having been used in popular music since the 1960s. They allow you to ‘talk like a robot’, which while fun, is often not musically useful.”

This from “Introduction to Vocoders,” proves the point that the vocoder does not, in fact, turn a song into music. The voice analyzer/synthesizer system that was originally developed in the 1930s to facilitate early telephony has now become a seemingly inescapable accessory to popular music.

Rapper Ice Cube also awkwardly reflected on the negative effects of vocoders on rap:

“Records sales really not concerned to me as much as doing it my way. And doing the kind of records I want to do. Without some A&R dude trying to tell me to go find T-Pain and get you a voice box. Ya know, all this stupid stuff that they do that mess up a lot of records, mess up a lot of artists.”

This clip of T-Pain v. His Vocoder is the audio equipment equivalent of Stephen King’s Christine, and it certainly backs up Mr. Cube’s claim.

Update: Turns out that the actual device Mr. Pain uses to alter his voice box is referred to as an Auto-Tune, and it’s the weapon of choice for Cher, Kanye, and T-Pain, who seems just as oblivious as this author was. The two machines are entirely different.

Thx jason freeman

Education in 140 characters or less

posted by Ainsley Drew   Mar 26, 2009

In response to a push for more tech literacy, British primary schools have proposed a new set of academic standards, including plans to study Twitter.

It seems to be going over fairly well with those at the head of the class. According to John Bangs, of the National Union of Teachers:

“Computer skills and keyboard skills seem to be as important as handwriting in this. Traditional books and written texts are downplayed in response to web-based learning.”

Let’s hope that history lectures don’t devolve into presentations on now-defunct MySpace pages and AOL screen-names.

via CNET

Speaking of memes, Susan Blackmore theorizes that

posted by Deron Bauman   Mar 04, 2008

Speaking of memes, Susan Blackmore theorizes that humans are just machines for propagating them.

Memes are using human brains as their copying machinery. So we need to understand the way human beings work.

&

Up until very recently in the world of memes, humans did all the varying and selecting. We had machines that copied — photocopiers, printing presses — but only very recently do we have artificial machines that also produce the variations, for example (software that) mixes up ideas and produces an essay or neural networks that produce new music and do the selecting. There are machines that will choose which music you listen to. It’s all shifting that way because evolution by natural selection is inevitable. There’s a shift to the machines doing all of that.

When asked what the future will look like, she says, “it will look like humans are just a minor thing on this planet with masses (of) silicon-based machinery using us to drag stuff out of the ground to build more machines.”

Good times.