Friday, July 20, 2012

Google I/O: A Pathos of Google

Vegas was built in a desert. To supply the energy requirements of a sprawling city that never closes, one of America’s great structures was erected; the Hoover Dam. When you go to visit it you can see by the color of the rocks how the water level has receded over time. Eventually there will not be enough power to keep Vegas going without other means. This is a problem that is deserving of a grand solution.  For the solution let’s look at a future road trip to Vegas.

Image from 1933 Fortune Magazine Article that describes the Dam.  

The Exposed White Rock shows the Dam Water Level has Receded

BACHELORETTE PARTY!! You and your friends live in Riverside, CA.  It is close to Los Angeles, but for this party everyone is excited to go to Vegas.  The first step is a road trip through the desert.  The air is hot and dry and the four of you are about to begin the 4 hour stretch on I-15.

There is a gas station sign that signals last chance for gas in 2 miles. In 1 mile is an exit for the Google Gas Free Freeway. Out of curiosity the driver gives it a chance and she takes the exit. Other signs along the highway direct her to turn her radio to 89.5FM for Google Gas Free Information. She obliged and the radio announces, “Welcome to the Google Gas Free Freeway route for Las Vegas, Nevada. A cooperative project of Google and the California and Nevada Traffic Authorities. Please pull into the parking garage ahead.” Other signs direct her into the parking lot. It is a small lot, and there are no other cars around except for a tow truck behind the attendant booth. Inside the booth a person is patiently waiting in case there are any questions or any service is required. Also, the playful multi-colored signs are directing the path to take. The spaces are clearly defined as one would expect.  However, in each one is a large yellow platform. It is obvious that the car should be parked directly on top of it. Signs in front light up just like in an automatic car wash. A green light with a sign signals her to ‘Drive Forward’. As she inches forward a red light comes on. ‘Stop, Put in Park. Put on Emergency Brake’. A few seconds later a yellow light comes on and reads ‘Please Pay Toll’. A pay meter that was inactive and unobserved came to life as it rolled into place next to the driver side window.  It resembled an ATM display.  A display prompts for a language. The sound of motors can be heard inside the machine. A slot suddenly opens and a brochure slides out for the driver to accept. The display on the screen now reads, ‘Please review the brochure to understand the process. Once satisfied, please accept the terms of service and pay the toll. Click here to pay the toll. Click here for more information about the toll.’ The toll is also displayed. The driver is confused about why anyone would pay the $15 toll to drive on this road and so asks for more information. A new display comes up. ‘The current toll is $15.00. With today’s fuel price the average cost of this trip is $40.00. Please see the brochure for more information about the toll.’ Seeing the savings the driver decides to pay the fee. 'To pay with cash, select here and then follow the on screen instructions to proceed.' The next screen comes up, 'To pay with your card swipe here and follow the instructions. To pay with your NFC equipped device, place your device on the pad to the right. To pay with your Google Checkout account or to set one up please select here.' The driver did not know about the other options and paid with a debit card. ‘Thank you.'

'Please leave your vehicle in park and the emergency brake on until you come to a complete stop.' The machine went back to its original quiet position in front of the car. A few moments later the sound of rushing air could be heard. It was obvious the entire vehicle rose a couple inches off the ground. The yellow platform they parked on was slowly leaving the parking garage on its own, hovering steadily towards a tunnel.  A sign welcomed them in large bold lettering; Welcome to the Google Gas Free Freeway. 

There was a gentle tug and a gradual acceleration and the people in the vehicle recognized the feeling as similar to their ski trips in Colorado. It was the same feeling of entering a ski lift. A belt caught the platform from underneath. Two metal tracks supplied a path for power to keep the air compressor running to keep the car hovering. It was the smoothest traveling they had ever experienced in a car. The passengers also let the driver know how much straighter it was also. 

Once a constant speed was reached the dim yellowish lights along the side of the wall gave way to a complete over head roof of calming blue LEDs. A message appeared in the lights, floating in front of the vehicle. It was as if a movie screen attached itself to the vehicle. It was the WWF logo. The logo faded and scrolling text started at a distance and disappeared over the windshield. 'The World Wildlife Federation would like to thank you for choosing to take this travel option. It uses a buried road design that does not impact the routes our wildlife needs for their migration. WWF is one of many proud sponsors of this project.' The message disappeared. 

Another screen appeared. 'MENU' in larger letters than the rest. 'Use your turn signals to navigate the menu', scrolled beneath it. The driver tried it. She turned the right turn signal on and the menu changed to 'Trip Information'. 'Flash your High beams to select' scrolled across the bottom this time. Once this was done, 'Travel Time remaining: 90 minutes.' Then, 'Current Speed: 150 mph' It did not feel any faster than they usually travel. 

After a minute the message went back to the main menu. This time the driver clicked through a couple times. A flash went off in the passenger’s seat, a picture to capture what was happening. The flash also had the effect of selecting 'Conditions in Las Vegas'.  Undoubtedly this was a bug that confused the camera flash with the flash of the high beams. 'Weather, 95 degrees Traffic: Some routes backed up. Flash High beams twice for more traffic info.' The driver did. A logo for Google Maps came up. A moment later the satellite view for Vegas came up with traffic conditions turned on. “Ok, so as long as we stay off those highways we will be fine. That’s not too bad.” Some time passed as they tried to figure out how to use the turn signals and high beams to zoom into their hotel location. They could figure out zones of the city, but specifics seemed impossible. 

After a few moments of inactivity the display switched to an ad, 'Come to Caesars'. The lights flashed and sparkled. 'Come see Cirque du Soleil. In our brand new NOBU restaurant.  The food and drink specials are...' After that, another ad, for another casino and attraction. A message flashed occasionally above, 'Flash your high beams to return to the MENU' The group in the car let the ads play. The people in the front seats turned to talk more comfortably with those in the back. 

Shortly after, the ads were interrupted by a notice for a rest stop.  The back seat passengers were adamant about stopping.  The driver went through the motions to select the rest area.  The car on the yellow platform was released from its belt line and they hovered to an above ground parking lot using the platform's own stored motive power.  This was the first time they actually noticed how much more comfortable the tunnel was.  The AC was not running much at all for the first of their trip.  Everyone got out of the car to use the restroom or stretch their legs.  The driver noticed an information display that is usually used to add some amount of attraction to the little stops and went to look closer.  It overlooked a large array of solar panels.  Further in the distance, following the ridge of the mountain, were lines of wind turbines.  The board graphically displayed that the solar panels powered the electronics of the Google Gas Free Freeway while the wind turbines acted as pumps to keep enough compressed air available to the platforms they were riding on.  Everyone eventually returned.  Each time some one returned and closed their door a sign on the machine in front of their car would turn on for several seconds.  'Flash high beams to continue'. Once she did they were off again into the comfort of the tunnel.  

After several minutes passed and several ads later, all the lights flashed yellow, and a message read, 'CAUTION: Vehicle will be slowing down soon.' A natural light was at the end of the tunnel. The yellow platform disengaged from the tunnel mechanism and slowly piloted itself to a free space. The same payment machine now showed other messages. Welcome to Las Vegas. Would you like to park your car here during your stay. I can call you a taxi or suggest efficient rental vehicles in our facility. If not, thank you for traveling with Google Gas Free Freeway.” They decided to drive themselves. As they left the lot they flirted with the sexy attendant before waving and pulling off into the city of lights.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Google I/O: A Logos of Google

This series is going to discuss a logos, pathos, and ethos that Google follows.  Those refer to the classic methods of persuasion proposed by Aristotle.  In this post, I will look at their logos, which as some would have you to believe is quite literally, their Logo.  By 'some', I mean myself.  

Among the announcements at this year's (2012) Google I/O conference were the official release of project Glass, a Nexus tablet, and media sharing device known as the Nexus Q.  

Glasses roughly match the profile of a G already.  By the time you add a battery or other electronics on to the end of an arm it just screams "THIS PROJECT IS BROUGHT TO YOU BY THE LETTER GGG!".  Augmented reality has been around in some form for a couple decades, but it has never developed into anything that could get people involved.  The stigma is that any augmented headset would have to be so large and heavy that they would be impractical for everyday use.  Google confronts this by making them secondary.  The wearer has to look up to actually see any information.  There is still eye contact when having a conversation.  The technology has come far enough to make it practical.  If I keep going down this topic I will end up repeating myself.   Augmented reality is covered in more depth here.  Since the end of the conference 2 weeks ago, news from both Apple and Olympus has come out indicating they have similar plans.  Project Glass was an initiative that allowed Google, for all intensive purposes, to be first in the field.  
The lower case 2nd G and only L are covered with the Nexus 7 tablet and a line up of  any of the many Android phones.  I give the G to the Nexus 7 because of its prominence in the logo.  As many others have pointed out this is aimed as a direct competitor to Amazon's tablet; Kindle Fire.  A decent selling feature for some is that it will come with the latest version of the Android OS and should integrate nicely with other Android devices and the Google+ environment.  However, rumors have been spiraling that Amazon is developing their own OS.  Currently, the Fire uses a version of Google's Android with a skin built in over top.  After the result of the Oracle vs. Google lawsuit it will be interesting to see Google's reaction if Amazon just brands a highly modified Android OS as their own.  (Oracle sued Google over using code without any license to do so.  Google won.  It was settled about a month ago.)

Another point of similarity is that both companies are re-couping profits from other means besides straight from selling the device; which sell for and cost around $200 to manufacture in the first place.  If you purchase the Fire, expect Amazon ads to be in your face.  The Nexus 7 will point you to Google as your default search and highly encourage you to have the full Google+ experience.  This is Google's direct competition against Amazon. 

O and e are both covered by the Nexus Q.  Don't let the name fool you.  It is such a strange design.  Why else would they make such an odd looking device that is, compared to their preceding announcement and other similar product, expensive?  This is their direct Apple competitor.  Comparing the Nexus 7 to the Kindle Fire is like looking at twins separated at birth.  But when you look more closely at Apple's history and the Q, similarities do stand out.

Steve Jobs was not practical when it came to designs.  They had to be visually stunning; inside and out.  He was known for forcing perfectly flat surfaces to bring products to market with basic geometries which are more pleasing to the eye.  They are more pleasing to look at, but it adds several design issues.  Large flat surfaces are prone to oil-canning.  This is when a large, nearly flat surface pops from one nearly stable position to another causing an audible noise.  Also, curved surfaces help hide defects.  On a flat surface if glare from light is not perfectly straight, there is an obvious warp.

In the Q's design everything had to be in a basic shape, a primitive, a sphere.  If you are not into design, just consider decorating a round room.  There are no flat surfaces to hang pictures, no lines to guide the layout.  Jobs highlighted the flat surfaces in his speeches.  Here, the curves are highlighted.  What makes that so special?  Why was it necessary?  No one will sit anything on a round object.  It has to be a centerpiece; the object in the room everyone talks about at one point or another.  I would not be surprised if it required a line of sight to use it to ensure no one puts it in a drawer.

Apple is known for doing everything in-house; software and hardware designs.  No one else is allowed to interfere.  In some respects this has the benefit that it forces a consistent user experience.  On the other hand it prevents outsiders from creating potentially incredible new functionality into the product.  Google has always gone the opposite route.  Everything is open-source, everyone can contribute, but people complain about the fragmentation and people tend to leave the Android community because they do not want to learn different ways of operating different apps or features.

Google made a surprising decision by only showing media streamed from Google Play.  They are forcing a specific user interface.  They are fighting the fragmentation concerns suffered from their other products.  There are several competitors in this market, but none has had a strong lead.  With Q, Google is using Apple's strategy of being the high-end brand.  Also, like Apple, Google will have to pitch this product until the public is convinced.  Once they do, if they do, the culture shift is complete.  This is Google's direct competition again Apple.  However, so far with the price set at $299 people expect a different Q.

Q from Star Trek was a Member of an Alien Species that Possessed God-like Abilities

This sets the final piece of the puzzle.  How did Google draw millions of people into using Google+.  Everyone who had a Gmail account was one day automatically signed into Google+, whether they knew it or not.  So, how can Google guarantee the maximum number of people get exposure to their products.  By using the most innocuous and pervasive of their projects; the Google Doodle.  The doodle refers to the Google logo seen every time you make a search.  Remember the different versions; the classic Pop-Eye, or popular Pac-Man (click the link to play).  

Google Doodle to Celebrate E.C. Segar's Birthday, the creator of Pop-Eye

Pac-Man Google Doodle

If you used iGoogle, perhaps you noticed that you would find out after others about the latest doodle.  Users of iGoogle were not exposed to the new daily artwork unless we signed out of our accounts.  This explains the timing of why iGoogle had to be dissolved after this year's Google I/O.  The actual date is set to November 2013; right on schedule for consumers to get glasses by the holidays.  Just like iGoogle gradually disappeared into Google+, Google Showcase could be rebranded from a developer forum into a theater of consumer goods.  Click on the Google Doodle and get an expanded sub-section of the Play Store.  

Does this signal the amorality of the corporate agenda?  This topic will be discussed later in this trilogy.

UP NEXT: Google I/O: A Pathos of Google
          (This will be my first narrative)
COMING UP: Google I/O: An Ethos of Google

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

CERN Higgs-Boson Announcement Summary

This is my light-hearted summary of what should prove to be a massive announcement about the search for the Higg-Boson particle.  This one is popularly referred to as the God particle by media.  While no where near that important, it is expected that this particle is responsible for giving larger particles,i.e. electrons, their mass.  Here are some highlights from the conference.  I try to be humorous because that is frequently lacking.

Image of Particles as They are Smashed Together

Pre-conference- entertaining because there is a woman that looks very upset who has a person sitting next to her, talking animatedly, that looks like Santa on vacation.  Got to love the science community.

First international particle conference conducted simultaneously at multiple global research centers.

Standard model is confirmed to 99%. A missing part is finding the Higgs-Boson particle.

A lot of talk over my head:)

Sounds like he is reviewing some statistics to cover his ass.  There were false claims several months earlier.  Not really false, but people kept leaking they found evidence when their evidence was not validated enough to gaurantee a high enough probability.

Looks like some charts roughly discussing vibration dampening at the particle scale. Insane.

Multi-varied technique to ... I'm going to start using that term at work.  Think that could go far.

He is being pushed to explain charts with whole semesters of info in about 10 seconds each.

haha.  He said TT bar. Prob has plans there afterwards too.

blah blah blah 5 standard deviations. Applause. Also likely high fives and chest bumps. Implies high probability (never talk of certainties) Higgs-Boson exists.

Cell phone just went off. For reals, at the climax.

Final result was 4.9 standard deviations probability that Higgs exists.

The results are open and available to everyone.  As all research should be.  Looking at you, universities.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Introducing Me, Myself, and I - A Social Media Multiple Personality Disorder

Last week's post concluded what was essentially my pilot episode.  It was a weekly three part series that took a slight detour as local news took precedence.  Another three part series is in the works, but before that I am going to be on vacation; FOR THREE WEEKS!  I still plan on sharing in that time, but the posts will likely be more of a Pinterest format.  

Pinterest, the reality TV series of social media.  Don't feel like putting in the time and effort to write, just copy and paste some pictures.  I can't really be against the practice (especially since I said I was going to do the same thing).  Each social media company tries to fill a different niche market and I use the ones that suite me.  I am much more a fan of other social networking sites.  Namely, 80% Twitter, 10% Facebook, 8% Google+, 2% LinkedIn.

If you did not notice from my last series, I go under the geek grouping of Google fanboy.  As such, several of their features get used.  Blogger, the host of the page you are on now, is owned by Google.  Out of sheer convenience, whenever I have a new post it gets a mention on my Google+ account. 

Some recent demographics: The vast majority of Google+ users are likely male.  The vast majority of Pinterest users are female.  So if an online cross-platform mixer was held, there would be enormous potential for the world record of group sexting.

I also use their news site to get caught up on the big stories.  Actually, my badges probably give a decent account of my interests.

My Google+ Badges

Of course, since everyone else is there, I am on Facebook.  Just as the Bible name literally means The Book, a movie came out declaring Facebook as The Social Network.  No, I do not want to plant a tree in "Farmville".  I have not ever gotten in to "Mafia Wars".  I am probably some form of a typical user here, simply checking friends' statuses every once in a while. 

For several years I was against Facebook because in contrast to Google's 'Don't Be Evil' motto, several articles seemed to come out depicting Facebook as despicable.  Google could practically equate their motto to 'Don't be Facebook'.  There was the expression of the Facebookification of the web, a notion that is horrible to me.  Facebook seems to be more secretive than others about how they use your data.  Google gets attacked from all sides because they blatantly tell people how their data is being used and make it available to people to use in creative, if creepy ways.  To see your data, just search 'Google Dashboard' in Google.  The description of the first link even says, 'Review your personal data'.  Inside the dashboard you can explicitly tell Google how you want them to use your data.  I turned on location history.  I rarely use it, but it is interesting.  Below is a screen shot of my Google Latitude History showing what I was doing a year ago today.

Google Latitude Location History

On the other hand, Facebook just recently went through becoming an IPO.  All the machines malfunctioned that allowed people to conduct their trades.  The biggest people to be impacted were the large traders.  Facebook, who in essence serves 99% of people, beat Wall Street at its own game.  That is incredible.  And I have not heard others allude to this, but Facebook, who employs some of the brightest computer programmers around goes IPO and machines involved in trades go down.  If there were individuals involved in the crash, first, that would be an incredible story, second, it helps make up for the bad publicity Facebook has received in the past from my perspective.

And then there is Twitter.  I was surprised when I wrote this, because I never thought about how much more regularly I use Twitter than other networking sites.  There is a sort of instant gratification to scrolling through and finding an interesting topic.  Actually, I believe I read an article linked from Twitter about why I navigate more to it.  Most companies use gamification to get users more actively involved.  Google's news badges, that is gamification.  Am I beating others to be the most interested in a topic!?  There is an occasional positive reinforcement.  But it is the randomly timed instant gratification that makes Twitter addictive.  In comparison, consider the number of slot machines in a casino to the number of black jack tables.  

I chose my Twitter handle, @NerdistNewsome, because it described the type of people I was most interested in following and the type of tweets I would be tweeting.  Also I liked the rhythm and alliteration.  Originally, I had no idea what I was doing or who to follow.  But slowly I learned or Twitter improved their discovery features and now I follow several major news sources of all levels of legitimacy.  If you want the latest news first, use Twitter.

LinkedIn is the infomercial of social media; You just set it, and forget it.  I have signed up, filled in all the info, and get weekly notices, but I rarely go back to review. 

Finally, this brings me to my disorder; everyone's disorder.  The list of social media sites that get listed on a page cannot go on forever.  There is little room for competition, even if a better product were to come along.  Already each of these social sites gets shown in a cascade of icons; each image slightly slowing down how fast a page will load.  These are each incredible companies, but it is leading to a social stagnation as new comers have less of a chance to be seen.

Coming Up- Back From Vaca: Energized
Up Next- Back From Vaca: Getting Around

Back From Vaca: Energized

Somehow, since I got back from vacation I have been waking up before the alarm.  This in itself is amazing because I am not a morning person; AT ALL!  But that is a side note.  While I felt awake and energized, the energy of interest to me is the noticeable differences in production between the States and in Germany, the country I just came back from.  

When passing a small town there would be 1 or 2 houses that would utilize roof mounted solar panels.  Just from my own estimation, eyeballing it, I would guess 5% of homes were set up.  Barns utilized it much more.  Several would have every square inch, or centimeter, covered. And while driving on the Autobon, several plots of land were utilized as solar farms.

Several Homes Utilized Solar Energy.  Sorry for the flash.

Barn Roof Entirely Covered with Solar Panels.

A Solar Farm Along the Autobon.

Another source came from wind turbines.  Contrary to the opinions of many people, I did not view them as an eye sore.  The placement, fluid shape, and overall structure give them a feel that they would be as out of place as a flower in nature.  When several of them are in motion together it adds the appeal of a choreograph.  

There was a point as we were on the highway that we passed a truck next to the road hauling one of the massive propellers.   It looked like an impossibly long burden for the truck to maneuver.  A few miles farther we saw the stalk of an unfinished wind turbine.  Rather than beauty this time, the main emotion was one of engineering accomplishment perhaps akin to an ancient society erecting a monolith.  

Most of the time all were busy supplying power to their people.  There was however a still day where little motion could be observed and that gave the feeling of a wilting flower, or of someone tripping on stage, and most importantly to the majority of people, of their tax dollars being wasted.  This is the tragedy of the human condition.  Even though I witnessed them producing energy most of the time, people will treat the seldom wasted hours like a friend after a horrible spat.  It is irrational, but we focus on the negatives and destroy a beneficial relationship.

The Single Flower

The Choreographed Dancers

A Modern Monolith

One of the major topics on the news in Germany was referred to as Energiewende, or 'Energy Revolution'.  In 2010, the parliament passed legislation to extend the life of 14 nuclear reactors.  The following year, after the Fukushima nuclear fallout disaster, Chancellor Merkel took action to reverse that decision.  The new regulation would phase out nuclear reactors.  Renewable subsidies would also be phased out, and instead, a system of punishments and rewards would be placed on companies.  Those that have a large negative impact on the environment would be taxed greater while companies that make efforts to lessen their impacts would be taxed less.

The move seems beautifully handled.  As I said, my calibrated eyes saw about 5% of residential houses had some form of solar power implemented.  Without having much quantitative reasoning behind this, that seems like a good time to phase out subsidies.  By that time, an individual is no longer an oddball, environmentalist nut taking chances on an unproven industry.  It gives the nudge to spur initial corporate interest in pursuing solar development, and as the residential subsidies are phased out, corporations begin to take interest in installing solar systems themselves.

It gives Germany the push to become a major competitor in an fledgling market.  In a world where oil and gas reserves will be gone in a hundred years* this push will likely be a great investment.  Yes, I am an American swooning over the energy practices of Deutschland.  The timing of the disaster allowed it to be politically possible for a time.  I applaud Merkel's current actions.  The headlines are already questioning her move towards a sustainable energy future.  Her personal question will be how to sustain her demographic in the coming years.

* The claim of 'a hundred years' of oil and gas reserves deserves justification to avoid being misrepresented (in the year 2100).  Several years back there were statements that only 10, only 20, only, 50 years of oil and natural gas are available.  A more accurate disclaimer would likely read along the lines of, 'There are only a hundred years of oil and natural gas available assuming we maintain current profit margins, do not sacrifice new lands or the environmental standards of current areas, and use the current existing common methods.'

Miraculously as more and more headlines were developed discussing the approaching limits of our fossil fuel growth a new technology was trumpeted as the savior of all our energy needs.  Hydraulic fracturing has been practiced for decades now.  However, in large practice it was not economically as appealing as more traditional methods and polluted the environment more per BTU generated.  Rising fuel costs got high enough and the technology progressed far enough (after decades) that it finally became justifiable.  (Sounds like a similar situation to the solar industry doesn't it)

There is an on going land grab for the arctic.  With so much ice it is difficult to get at the vast swaths of land that are all but gushing with oil.  However, the ice caps are showing signs of retreating.  So every year it becomes a more plausible option for the oil tycoons to pursue.  Plus, it would make a great documentary for the environmentalists.  Instead of showing the usual scenes of oil wells 50 feet from a family's house as companies take advantage of subsurface land rights, or ghost towns that are oil soaked deserted wastelands, the white arctic ice sheet would offer a nice contrast.

Oceanic drilling is another popular option.  By having pumps out at sea where few eyes can see, few mouths can question, and few media can be heard; companies have much less to fear.  The corporate risk, which in effect CEO's are bound by law to follow to maximize benefit to the shareholders, is much less than the risks posed to the environment.

So, 'a hundred years' is a very speculative term.  Many assumptions are made to arrive at it.  There is no need to worry that families in the future will have a shortage of fossil fuels.   That is of course, as long as you are willing to make other sacrifices.

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