The Revolution will be Virtualized

One the hottest things lately in information technology is the area of Virtual/Augmented Reality(VR and AR for short). Companies from Facebook, to Google, to Sony, and so on are all launching forays into this area, and working to make it the Next Big Thing. VR and it’s cousin AR are not exactly new things.  After all, all manner of video games for quite some time have presented a form of VR, and AR has been represented in a fashion by entries such as maps to Pokemon Go. Further, interactive real time social VR has been represented by virtual worlds for a number of years in titles like Second Life, There, and so on.

So it would be easy to dismiss the latest hype, except for one small point: the technology is finally catching up to the vision.

In the past, VR and AR were presented on 2d screens with 3d emulations.  Haptic feedback was limited, and full immersion was something that required extremely expensive equipment and computing power. In short, it was far out of reach for any practical application. So the result was that VR ended up being a niche, limited to gaming and creative social virtual reality, and without leaps in technology, it was stuck there. But that is becoming less of an issue now, and while it has yet to go fully mainstream, it appears that we are on a path that will result in such an outcome within the next two-to-five years.

How will it change things? Well, it’s going to affect everything from enterprise business to entertainment to social gatherings. It’s going to allow real time interaction and collaboration far beyond what is possible now via Skype, or WebEx, or by phone.  I’ll say more in subsequent posts, but hold onto your seats, this space is going to get hot.

When Progress isn’t Progress

There has been a debate lately on many tech forums about Apple’s removal of the 3.5mm headphone jack on the iPhone 7.  Supporters of the idea claim it is progress, something akin to the end of the floppy drive or the adoption of USB.  Both scenarios, proponents claim, are the same thing as moving all audio to wireless.  In both cases, options were removed and newer technology put in place.  But let’s be clear, the first was about a storage medium that was surpassed by a bigger storage medium (namely floppy disks versus CD/DVD).  The second was replacing various computer device connectors with a standard computer device connector.  Those were progress.

But in the case of headphones, it isn’t so clear as to reasons why it has to be a wireless only world, and further, why that would be progress.  It might be progress for Apple, assuming they sell more Beats wireless headphones, but for those who prefer a wired set of headphones or connections to a stereo system, is that really progress?  I honestly don’t know how this is going to develop, but in this case it does seem like removing a feature is removing user options rather than providing progress.

Time will tell.

Components of VR – It isn’t Just Mesh

A common perception of the VR experience is that it’s all visual. While it is true that developing mesh in Maya or Blender is essential, the actual VR environment is more than that. Some of the things to think about are:

  • Lighting
  • Color
  • Texture
  • Audio
  • Animation
  • The Experience
  • Interaction

In upcoming posts, I will explore these elements deeper, and talk about the production aspects. And we can distinguish between a virtual world (something such as Second Life) and virtual reality (everything from virtual worlds to augmented reality to “video” games).  The former are virtual green fields where the users develop and shape the experience, and the latter tend toward pre-defined experiences.  Regardless, the production elements are similar, but can have differences.  For example, what are the differences between producing a virtual real time concert (perhaps in Second Life) as opposed to producing pre-defined experience with music?  How would using goggles such as the rift change or affect these scenarios?

These are some of the things we will look at in future posts.

Impossible Foods

The title of this post is actually the name of a start up, one who is looking to create realistic plant based meats and cheeses. No, seriously:

Impossible Foods, a four-year-old, Redwood City, Ca.-based company at work on a new generation of meats and cheeses made entirely from plants, has raised $108 million in new funding from a powerful group of backers.

Investors in the round, which was led by UBS, include Viking Global Investors and earlier backers Khosla Ventures; Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates; and Horizons Ventures, which invests on behalf of Hong Kong business magnate Li Ka-shing.

Interestingly, Google was (may still be?) interested in acquiring them.

It was also in talks with Google about a potential acquisition this past summer, according to the Information. According to its sources, the deal fell apart because Impossible Foods wanted more than the $200 million to $300 million it was being offered.

What’s next, Google-in-a-Box? ;-)

AdBlock on iOS9 Takes Off

This should be no surprise.

Sarah Perez reports at TechCrunch that only one day after the release of Apple’s newly released version of Apple’s mobile operating system, iOS 9, ad blockers are topping the charts in the App Store and it seems that new iOS 9 users are thrilled to have access to this added functionality. The Top Paid iOS app is the new ad-blocker Peace, a $2.99 download from Instapaper founder Marco Arment. Peace currently supports a number of exclusive features that aren’t found in other blockers yet.

Neither should the response from the ad industry.

It’s no surprise that advertisers and publishers who make their money from advertising aren’t exactly fans of blockers. What is surprising is that no one seemed to disagree with the argument that online ads have gotten out of control. “I think if we don’t acknowledge that, we’d be fools,” says Scott Cunningham, “So does that mean ad blockers are good or right? Absolutely not. Do we have an accountability and responsibility to address these things? Absolutely — and there’s a lot that we’re doing now.” Harry Kargman agrees that in many cases, online ads have created “a bad consumer experience — from an annoyance perspective, a privacy perspective, a usability perspective.” At the same time, Kargman says that as the industry works to solve these problems, it also needs to convince people that when you use an ad blocker, “That’s stealing. It’s no different than ripping music. It’s no different than pirating movies.

Put another way, these clowns would make it illegal to block their ads if they had their way. Newsflash to Kargman: you’ve lost the trust of end users via your industry practices. Ads take up bandwidth, are getting more and more aggressive, and are now a security risk. If you want to cast blame for the rise of ad blockers, look in the mirror.

Another Dubious Android Situation

Judging from the comments in the article, one has to wonder if this promotion is going to work out well.

Samsung’s sales have been sliding downward for a while now, and it’s getting creative in its attempts to win new users. Today it announced an “Ultimate Test Drive” promotion targeted at iPhone users: Pay $1, and you can try a Galaxy S6 Edge, S6 Edge+, or Galaxy Note 5 for 30 days on your choice of Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, or T-Mobile.

Especially when security issues around Android are major news. “Temporary” new users and a major security flaw sound like a bad combination.

An Android update designed to fix a security hole in the operating system is itself flawed, it has emerged. In July, a vulnerability that affected up to a billion Android phones was made public by software researchers.

Google made a patch available, but security company Exodus Intelligence said it had been able to bypass the fix. Exodus Intelligence said the update could give people a “false sense of security.”

Phone manufacturers are responsible for updating their own devices with the latest software. But many do not, while some companies use customised versions of Android which take time to rebuild when security changes are made.

For these reasons, only 2.6% of Android phones are running the latest version of the operating system.

Comcast, Verizon, and reasons for solving the Net Neutrality question

If you think “net neutrality” is a boring topic, or that the FCC should not address it, there were a couple of Comcast items of note this week that underscore just how much this topic is misunderstood. Perhaps we should start calling them Comcast/NBC/Universal, because that might be more accurate. They are far more than just a cable company, they own a significant piece of content too.

In any event, two items:

1. Comcast-owned NBC buys part of Vox Media and its stable of news sites

Which discusses Comcast buying up news websites.

The official announcement comes after reports last month that Comcast was in negotiations with both Vox Media and BuzzFeed. Later this week, NBCUniversal will announce a $200 million investment in BuzzFeed, Re/code reported today.

Comcast rival Verizon has also gotten into the news business with a recent purchase of AOL, which owns the The Huffington Post, TechCrunch, Engadget, and others.

2. Comcast is about to launch a major video platform called Watchable to rival Facebook and Google

Which discusses Comcast building it’s own web video service.

Comcast is partnering with major digital publishers like Comcast-backed Vox and Buzzfeed, lifestyle, and comedy sites like AwesomenessTV, Refinery29, and The Onion, news sites like Mic and Vice, as well as legacy brands like NBC Sports to come up with a widespread digital-video platform that will rival YouTube and Facebook’s online video efforts.

It will also rival the rumored video platform Verizon is preparing to unveil.

In a world where Comcast as an ISP (or Verizon or AT&T) or the only viable choice of ISP for many people, the developing vision of these companies controlling the pipe and all layers of the OSI model is the root cause for concern around the entire “net neutrality” debate. If the big ISP’s want to be in the content marketplace, fine, but control of, and robust competition in, the last mile network is something we need to look at.

What are the solutions? So far I’ve seen proposals ranging from having the last mile portions divested to finding a means to return to far more competition such as line sharing. But doing nothing is leading us to a messy situation. We need far more competition, especially at local levels, and sooner rather than later. Absent that, the last mile pipe will end up being treated as a utility, which isn’t ideal, but will be what local communities start demanding.

Samsung Pay? Why?

This week Samsung announced “Samsung Pay” as coming to their smartphones. Presumably as a competitor to Apple Pay, but more realistically it will end up competing against Google Wallet. Will people forgo their iPhones or non-Samsung Android phones to flock to Samsung Pay? I’m doubtful. Supposedly the advantage of Samsung Pay is that it can mimic a card swipe. Fine, but that may also end up being a security nightmare waiting to happen.

Unlike Apple Pay and Android Pay, Samsung Pay supports not just NFC for retail transactions but also a separate wireless technology — acquired via the takeover of LoopPay — that can mimic a card swipe. That should give Samsung Pay a leg up when it comes to merchant acceptance, as merchants will not be forced to upgrade their payment terminals to work with NFC in order to accept Samsung Pay.

To use Samsung Pay, users choose the card they want to use, authenticate with a fingerprint scan, then tap their device on the appropriate spot on a terminal. Samsung is relying on tokenized transactions to prevent stolen data and fraud.

Moreoever, doesn’t this just encourage further fragmentation in the Android phone payment space? Color me very skeptical on this product/service.

Do $340 ethernet cables sound better than regular ethernet cables?

I had no idea there were such things as audiophile ethernet cables, but apparently they exist. Why? Some people feel they sound better. Yes, I know, it’s just data they are transmitting, not analog audio signals. Regardless, they have their adherents.

They get tested against each other in detail over at ARS, which you can read here

tl/dr version:

Let’s get this out of the way first: the overwhelming majority of subjects could not tell the difference between a $350 AudioQuest Vodka Ethernet cable and a $2.50 “Cable Matters” cable from Amazon under our specific testing conditions. I don’t think anyone was expecting anything different from this test, including the true believer audiophile set. However, it’s possible that our test didn’t account for some variables—which means, at worst, our results aren’t broadly applicable.

Site Update Nearly Complete

I’ve received a few messages asking about the site update, so this post is just to let everyone know the update is nearing completion.  I apologize for the lack of recent updates, but I will get back to them soon.