EssentialstheDiagonal is a personal blog by Mike Gerra, skeptic, technologist, psychologist, artist, humanist, collector of grand, eclectic ideas.theDiagonal blog connects the dots across multiple disciplines for inquisitive, objective and critical thinkers, exploring the vertices of big science, disruptive innovation, global sustainability, illuminating literature and leftfield art. It is on this diagonal that creativity thrives, big ideas take flight and reason triumphs.
Tag Archives: technology
Wednesday, June 5, 2013
History will probably show that humans are the likely cause for the mass disappearance and death of honey bees around the world.
So, while ecologists try to understand why and how to reverse bee death and colony collapse, engineers are busy building alternatives to our once nectar-loving friends. Meet RoboBee, also known as the Micro Air Vehicles Project.
From Scientific American:
We take for granted the effortless flight of insects, thinking nothing of swatting a pesky fly and crushing its wings. But this insect is a model of complexity. After 12 years of work, researchers at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences have succeeded in creating a fly-like robot. And in early May, they announced that their tiny RoboBee (yes, it’s called a RoboBee even though it’s based on the mechanics of a fly) took flight. In the future, that could mean big things for everything from disaster relief to colony collapse disorder....read more
Saturday, May 18, 2013
Good customer service once meant that a store or service employee would know you by name. This person would know your previous purchasing habits and your preferences; this person would know the names of your kids and your dog. Great customer service once meant that an employee could use this knowledge to anticipate your needs or personalize a specific deal. Well, this type of service still exists — in some places — but many businesses have outsourced it to offshore call center personnel or to machines, or both. Service may seem personal, but it’s not — service is customized to suit your profile, but it’s not personal in the same sense that once held true....read more
Saturday, April 13, 2013
Your movements are valuable — but not in the way you may think. Mobile technology companies are moving rapidly to exploit the vast amount of data collected from the billions of mobile devices. This data is extremely valuable to an array of organizations, including urban planners, retailers, and travel and transportation marketers. And, of course, this raises significant privacy concerns. Many believe that when the data is used collectively it preserves user anonymity. However, if correlated with other data sources it could be used to discover a range of unintended and previously private information, relating both to individuals and to groups.
From MIT Technology Review:
Wireless operators have access to an unprecedented volume of information about users’ real-world activities, but for years these massive data troves were put to little use other than for internal planning and marketing....read more
Monday, April 8, 2013
Many herald the forward motion of technological innovation as progress. In many cases the momentum does genuinely seem to carry us towards a better place; it broadly alleviates pain and suffering; it generally delivers more and better nutrition to our bodies and our minds. Yet for all the positive steps, this progress is often accompanied by retrograde leaps — often paradoxical ones. Particularly disturbing is the relative ease to which technology allows us — the responsible adults – to sexualise and exploit children. Now, this is certainly not a new phenomenon, but our technical prowess certainly makes this problem more pervasive. A case in point, the Instagram beauty pageant. Move over Honey Boo-Boo.
From the Washington Post:...read more
Thursday, April 4, 2013
Martin Cooper. You may not know that name, but you and a fair proportion of the world’s 7 billion inhabitants have surely held or dropped or prodded or cursed his offspring.
You see, forty years ago Martin Cooper used his baby to make the first public mobile phone call. Martin Cooper invented the cell phone.
From the Guardian:
It is 40 years this week since the first public mobile phone call. On 3 April, 1973, Martin Cooper, a pioneering inventor working for Motorola in New York, called a rival engineer from the pavement of Sixth Avenue to brag and was met with a stunned, defeated silence. The race to make the first portable phone had been won. The Pandora’s box containing txt-speak, pocket-dials and pig-hating suicidal birds was open....read more
Tuesday, April 2, 2013
Robert Hof argues that the time is ripe for Steve Jobs’ corporate legacy to reinvent the TV. Apple transformed the personal computer industry, the mobile phone market and the music business. Clearly the company has all the components in place to assemble another innovation.
From Technology Review:
Steve Jobs couldn’t hide his frustration. Asked at a technology conference in 2010 whether Apple might finally turn its attention to television, he launched into an exasperated critique of TV. Cable and satellite TV companies make cheap, primitive set-top boxes that “squash any opportunity for innovation,” he fumed. Viewers are stuck with “a table full of remotes, a cluster full of boxes, a bunch of different [interfaces].” It was the kind of technological mess that cried out for Apple to clean it up with an elegant product. But Jobs professed to have no idea how his company could transform the TV....read more
Saturday, March 30, 2013
For technologists the barriers to developing a new product have never been so low. Tools to develop, integrate and distribute software apps are to all intents negligible. Of course, most would recognize that development is often the easy part. The real difficulty lies in building an effective and sustainable marketing and communication strategy and getting the product adopted.
The recent headlines of 17 year old British app developer Nick D’Aloisio selling his Summly app to Yahoo! for the tidy sum of $30 million, has lots of young and seasoned developers scratching their heads. After all, if a school kid can do it, why not anybody? Why not me?
Paul Graham may have some of the answers. He sold his first company to Yahoo in 1998. He now runs YCombinator a successful startup incubator. We excerpt his recent, observant and insightful essay below.
From Paul Graham:...read more
Monday, March 18, 2013
Rattling off esoteric facts to friends and colleagues at a party or in the office is often seen as a simple way to impress. You may have tried this at some point — to impress a prospective boy or girl friend or a group of peers or even your boss. Not surprisingly, your facts will impress if they are relevant to the discussion at hand. However, your audience will be even more agog at your uncanny, intellectual prowess if the facts and figures relate to some wildly obtuse domain — quotes from authors, local bird species, gold prices through the years, land-speed records through the ages, how electrolysis works, etymology of polysyllabic words, and so it goes....read more
Thursday, February 7, 2013
The most fundamental innovation tends to happen at the intersection of disciplines. So, what do you get if you cross 3-D printing technology with embryonic stem cell research? Well, you get a device that can print lines of cells with similar functions, such as heart muscle or kidney cells. Welcome to the new world of biofabrication. The science fiction future seems to be ever increasingly close.
From Scientific American:
Imagine if you could take living cells, load them into a printer, and squirt out a 3D tissue that could develop into a kidney or a heart. Scientists are one step closer to that reality, now that they have developed the first printer for embryonic human stem cells....read more
Sunday, January 13, 2013
If you eat too quickly, then HAPIfork is the new eating device for you. If you have trouble seeing text on your palm-sized iPad, then Lenovo’s 27 inch tablet is for you. If you need musical motivation from One Direction to get your children to brush their teeth, then the Brush Buddies toothbrush is for you, and your kids. If you’re tired of technology, then stay away from this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES 2013).
If you’d like to see other strange products looking for a buyer follow this jump.
Image: The HAPIfork monitors how fast its user is eating and alerts them if their speed is faster than a pre-determined rate by vibrating, which altogether sounds like an incredibly strange eating experience. Courtesy of CES / Telegraph.
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Saturday, November 24, 2012
As the internet that connects humans reaches a stable saturation point the industrial internet — the network that connects things — is increasing its growth and reach.
From the New York Times:
When Sharoda Paul finished a postdoctoral fellowship last year at the Palo Alto Research Center, she did what most of her peers do — considered a job at a big Silicon Valley company, in her case, Google. But instead, Ms. Paul, a 31-year-old expert in social computing, went to work for General Electric.
Ms. Paul is one of more than 250 engineers recruited in the last year and a half to G.E.’s new software center here, in the East Bay of San Francisco. The company plans to increase that work force of computer scientists and software developers to 400, and to invest $1 billion in the center by 2015. The buildup is part of G.E’s big bet on what it calls the “industrial Internet,” bringing digital intelligence to the physical world of industry as never before....read more
Friday, November 23, 2012
Starting up a new business was once a demanding and complex process, often undertaken in anonymity in the long shadows between the hours of a regular job. It still is over course. However nowadays “the startup” has become more of an event. The tech sector has raised this to a fine art by spawning an entire self-sustaining and self-promoting industry around startups.
You’ll find startup gurus, serial entrepreneurs and digital prophets — yes, AOL has a digital prophet on its payroll — strutting around on stage, twittering tips in the digital world, leading business plan bootcamps, pontificating on accelerator panels, hosting incubator love-ins in coffee shops or splashed across the covers of Entrepreneur or Inc or FastCompany magazines on an almost daily basis. Beware! The back of your cereal box may be next.
From the Telegraph:
Sunday, November 18, 2012
Most of us now carry around inside our smartphones more computing power than NASA once had in the Apollo command module. So, it’s interesting to look back at old movies to see how celluloid fiction portrayed computers. Most from the 1950s and 60s were replete with spinning tape drives and enough lights to resemble the Manhattan skyline. Our favorite here at theDiagonal is the first “Bat Computer” from the original 1960′s TV series, which could be found churning away in Batman’s crime-fighting nerve center beneath Wayne Mansion.
The United States government powered up its SAGE defense system in July 1958, at an Air Force base near Trenton, New Jersey. Short for Semi-Automatic Ground Environment, SAGE would eventually span 24 command and control stations across the US and Canada, warning against potential air attacks via radar and an early IBM computer called the AN/FSQ-7....read more
Saturday, November 17, 2012
We all have owned or have used or have come far too close to a technology that we absolutely abhor and wish numerous curses upon its inventors. Said gizmo may be the unfathomable VCR, the forever lost TV remote, the tinny sounding Sony Walkman replete with unraveling cassette tape, the Blackberry, or even Facebook.
Ours over here at theDiagonal is the voice recognition system used by 99 percent of so-called customer service organizations. You know how it goes, something like this: “please say ‘one’ for new accounts”, “please say ‘two’ if you are an existing customer”, please say ‘three’ for returns”, “please say ‘Kyrgyzstan’ to speak with a customer service representative”.
Wired recently listed their least favorite, most hated technologies. No surprises here — winners of this dubious award include the Bluetooth headset, CDROM, and Apple TV remote.
Bluetooth Headsets...read more
Saturday, October 20, 2012
Google lets the world peek at the many tubes that form a critical part of its search engine infrastructure — functional and pretty too.
From the Independent:
They are the cathedrals of the information age – with the colour scheme of an adventure playground.
For the first time, Google has allowed cameras into its high security data centres – the beating hearts of its global network that allow the web giant to process 3 billion internet searches every day.
Only a small band of Google employees have ever been inside the doors of the data centres, which are hidden away in remote parts of North America, Belgium and Finland.
Their workplaces glow with the blinking lights of LEDs on internet servers reassuring technicians that all is well with the web, and hum to the sound of hundreds of giant fans and thousands of gallons of water, that stop the whole thing overheating....read more
Sunday, October 14, 2012
In this age of digital everything handwriting does still matter. Some of you may even still have a treasured fountain pen. Novelist Philip Hensher suggests why handwriting has import and value in his new book, The Missing Ink.
From the Guardian:
About six months ago, I realised that I had no idea what the handwriting of a good friend of mine looked like. I had known him for over a decade, but somehow we had never communicated using handwritten notes. He had left voice messages for me, emailed me, sent text messages galore. But I don’t think I had ever had a letter from him written by hand, a postcard from his holidays, a reminder of something pushed through my letter box. I had no idea whether his handwriting was bold or crabbed, sloping or upright, italic or rounded, elegant or slapdash....read more
Saturday, September 22, 2012
How-to infographics are as common as convenience stores at intersections. So it takes something special to get thediagonal’s attention. This one fits the bill — courtesy of the geeks at MyDestination; replete with cheesy graphics and terrible advise.
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Monday, September 17, 2012
We excerpt an interview with big data pioneer and computer scientist, Alex Pentland, via the Edge. Pentland is a leading thinker in computational social science and currently directs the Human Dynamics Laboratory at MIT.
While there is no exact definition of “big data” it tends to be characterized quantitatively and qualitatively differently from data commonly used by most organizations. Where regular data can be stored, processed and analyzed using common database tools and analytical engines, big data refers to vast collections of data that often lie beyond the realm of regular computation. So, often big data requires vast and specialized storage and enormous processing capabilities. Data sets that fall into the big data area cover such areas as climate science, genomics, particle physics, and computational social science....read more
Sunday, September 16, 2012
Science fiction stories and illustrations from our past provide a wonderful opportunity for us to test the predictive and prescient capabilities of their creators. Some like Arthur C. Clarke, we are often reminded, foresaw the communications satellite and the space elevator. Others, such as science fiction great, Isaac Asimov, fared less well in predicting future technology; while he is considered to have coined the term “robotics”, he famously predicted future computers and robots as using punched cards....read more
Saturday, September 15, 2012
Apple’s invention of the iPhone is story of insight, collaboration, cannibalization and dogged persistence over the period of a decade.
Like many of Apple’s inventions, the iPhone began not with a vision, but with a problem. By 2005, the iPod had eclipsed the Mac as Apple’s largest source of revenue, but the music player that rescued Apple from the brink now faced a looming threat: The cellphone. Everyone carried a phone, and if phone companies figured out a way to make playing music easy and fun, “that could render the iPod unnecessary,” Steve Jobs once warned Apple’s board, according to Walter Isaacson’s biography.
Sunday, September 9, 2012
Thirty years ago today Professor Scott Fahlman of Carnegie Mellon University sent what is believed to be the first emoticon embedded in an email. The symbol, , which he proposed as a joke marker, spread rapidly, morphed and evolved into a universe of symbolic nods, winks, and cyber-emotions.
For a lengthy list of popular emoticons, including some very interesting Eastern ones, jump here.
From the Independent:
To some, an email isn’t complete without the inclusion of or . To others, the very idea of using “emoticons” – communicative graphics – makes the blood boil and represents all that has gone wrong with the English language....read more
Thursday, September 6, 2012
So, here’s the premise. You have hiked alone for days and now find yourself isolated and lost in a dense forest half-way up a mountain. Yes! You have a cell phone. But, oh no, there is no service in this remote part of the world. So, no call for help and no GPS. And, it gets worse: you have no emergency supplies and no food. What can you do? The neat infographic offers some tips.
Infographic courtesy of Natalie Bracco / AnsonAlex.com.
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Saturday, August 18, 2012
Hot from the TechnoSensual Exposition in Vienna, Austria, come clothes that can be made transparent or opaque, and clothes that can detect a wearer telling a lie. While the value of the former may seem dubious outside of the home, the latter invention should be a mandatory garment for all politicians and bankers. Or, for the less adventurous, millinery fashionistas, how about a hat that reacts to ambient radio waves?
All these innovations find their way from the realms of a Philip K. Dick science fiction novel, courtesy of the confluence of new technologies and innovative textile design.
From New Scientist:
WHAT if the world could see your innermost emotions? For the wearer of the Bubelle dress created by Philips Design, it’s not simply a thought experiment....read more
Thursday, August 9, 2012
Facebook trawls your profile, status and friends to target ads more effectively. It also allows 3rd parties, for a fee, to mine mountains of aggregated data for juicy analyses. Many online companies do the same. However, some companies are taking this to a whole, new and very personal level.
Here’s an example from Germany. Politician Malte Spitz gathered 6 months of his personal geolocation data from his mobile phone company. Then, he combined this data with his activity online, such as Twitter updates, blog entries and website visits. The interactive results seen here, plotted over time and space, show the detailed extent to which an individual’s life is being tracked and recorded.
From Zeit Online:
Saturday, July 14, 2012
A view from Esther Dyson, one of world’s leading digital technology entrepreneurs. She has served as a an early investor in numerous startups, including Flickr, del.icio.us, ZEDO, and Medspace, and is currently focused on startups in medical technology and aviation.
From Project Syndicate:
The most popular stories often seem to end at the beginning. “…and so Juan and Alice got married.” Did they actually live happily ever after? “He was elected President.” But how did the country do under his rule? “The entrepreneur got her startup funding.” But did the company succeed?
Let’s consider that last one. Specifically, what happens to entrepreneurs once they get their money? Everywhere I go – and I have been in Moscow, Libreville (Gabon), and Dublin in the last few weeks – smart people ask how to get companies through the next phase of growth. How can we scale entrepreneurship to the point that it has a measurable and meaningful impact on the economy?...read more
Sunday, July 8, 2012
In 1965, Intel co-founder Gordon Moore made a prediction about computing that has held true to this day. Moore’s law, as it came to be known, forecasted that the number of transistors we’d be able to cram onto a circuit—and thereby, the effective processing speed of our computers—would double roughly every two years. Remarkably enough, this rule has been accurate for nearly 50 years, but most experts now predict that this growth will slow by the end of the decade.
Someday, though, a radical new approach to creating silicon semiconductors might enable this rate to continue—and could even accelerate it. As detailed in a study published in this month’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team of researchers from the University of California at Santa Barbara and elsewhere have harnessed the process of evolution to produce enzymes that create novel semiconductor structures....read more
Friday, June 29, 2012
You may not know their names, but Desiderio Pavoni and Luigi Bezzerra are to coffee as are Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak to computers. Modern day espresso machines owe all to the innovative design and business savvy of this early 20th century Italian duo.
Thursday, June 28, 2012
From the Guardian:
With the benefit of hindsight, life as I knew it came to an end in late 1994, round Seal’s house. We used to live round the corner from each other and if he was in between supermodels I’d pop over to watch a bit of Formula 1 on his pop star-sized flat-screen telly. I was probably on the sofa reading Vogue (we had that in common, albeit for different reasons) while he was “mucking about” on his computer (then the actual technical term for anything non-work-related, vis-à-vis computers), when he said something like: “Kate, have a look at this thing called the World Wide Web. It’s going to be massive!”...read more
Wednesday, June 13, 2012
The mind boggles at the possible situations when a SpeechJammer (affectionately known as the “Shutup Gun”) might come in handy – raucous parties, boring office meetings, spousal arguments, playdates with whiny children.
From the New York Times:
When you aim the SpeechJammer at someone, it records that person’s voice and plays it back to him with a delay of a few hundred milliseconds. This seems to gum up the brain’s cognitive processes — a phenomenon known as delayed auditory feedback — and can painlessly render the person unable to speak. Kazutaka Kurihara, one of the SpeechJammer’s creators, sees it as a tool to prevent loudmouths from overtaking meetings and public forums, and he’d like to miniaturize his invention so that it can be built into cellphones. “It’s different from conventional weapons such as samurai swords,” Kurihara says. “We hope it will build a more peaceful world.”...read more
Saturday, June 9, 2012
Mobile and social technologies such as smartphones, Twitter feeds, and inflight internet, to name but three, are having an increasing effect on the travel and transportation industry.
Inforgraphic courtesy of Mydestination.
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