What do driverless cars see when they look at the world?

Friday, 13 November, 2015

When it comes to driverless cars there is an abundance of questions, though possibly the answers may not be equally plentiful. For my part, I’ve wondered for a long time how such vehicles see their way around, because, without knowing, it could be I’d find being a passenger in one nerve-racking to say the least.

3-D laser scanning might have something to do with it, and this video by ScanLAB, filmed in London, offers us a driverless car’s view of the world. Picture yourself in the passenger seat. How clearly do you think the car’s sensors perceive the roads they are travelling along?

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You’re not a real person, you write your bullshit from a dark room

Tuesday, 3 November, 2015

Hasn’t Instagram, the world’s favourite online mobile photo and video sharing app, turned us all into choreographers, art directors, screenwriters, and outright lying cheats… presenting Hashtag NoFilter, by Salzburg based video producer Matthew Rycroft.

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I’m live tweeting my #surgery, it sure beats an anesthetic

Tuesday, 27 October, 2015

If anesthetics aren’t your thing… engaging in an exchange of text messages with a stranger during a minor surgical procedure may reduce the amount of pain medication that is required. Not so much the case for those close to you though, it seems there’d be too much focus on the procedure, and that might ramp up discomfort levels.

Guillory expected the strongest effect to occur while texting with a loved one, but that wasn’t the case: playing a game or texting a loved one did reduce the amount of medication needed, compared to doing nothing, but those who texted with a stranger saw the best results, requiring only one-sixth of the pain medication as individuals with no intervention. That may be because the conversations with strangers – designed to be a sort of “get to know you” exchange – included more positive emotion words and self-affirming topics than conversations with loved ones, which tended to be centered on the surgery and focus on the body and negative emotions.

Maybe a network of strangers needs to be established so that we have access to unknown persons, who we can text at such a time.

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Predicting human behaviour, there’s an algorithm for that

Tuesday, 20 October, 2015

This is a worry. When attempting to figure out whether a student might drop out of a course within a certain number of days, computers sifting through the same data as people, were able to reach a correct conclusion in far less time.

It’s fairly common for machines to analyze data, but humans are typically required to choose which data points are relevant for analysis. In three competitions with human teams, a machine made more accurate predictions than 615 of 906 human teams. And while humans worked on their predictive algorithms for months, the machine took two to 12 hours to produce each of its competition entries.

My computer must be running these same predictive algorithms… for example my laptop must be able to figure out when I want to say go out, or finish up for the day, because right on cue, sensing I want to be elsewhere, it slows down to a snail’s pace, thus detaining me.

Then again, that might be tied to the simulation that we are part of.

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Is this most unreal life really a real like simulation?

Tuesday, 20 October, 2015

Do you have days when it feels as if everything you touch seems to break, or not work? Days when little goes right? Do you ever come to feel that some force is play, setting up these let downs, one after the other? As if you were part of a Sims game that some other person, or entity, is playing somewhere?

Could it all be an hallucination? Is the world we reside in, or think we reside in, really just a simulation? Probably not, but then again, maybe:

The other aspect is, “How do we know we’re not being completely fooled?” In other words, forgetting about whether there is a deeper level of reality, how do we know whether the world we see represents reality at all? How do we know, for example, that our memories of the past are accurate? Maybe we are just brains living in vats, or maybe the whole universe was created last Thursday.

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On making a suit from scratch, as in growing the cotton and wool

Thursday, 15 October, 2015

Living off the land, and leading a one hundred percent self sufficient lifestyle, is a prospect that would likely make most of us baulk, to put it mildly. While some people may, and indeed do, find the notion appealing, it takes a special sort. Try, for instance, making your own clothes, or as Andy George did, a suit, completely from scratch.

When I say completely from scratch, I’m talking about growing and harvesting the cotton, the wool, and the suede – possibly the most difficult part – that was also included. And for all the work he did himself, over a ten month period, George still had to shell out four thousand dollars. Value for time and money? I’ll let you determine that for yourselves.

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There’s daydreaming at the shops then there’s deep dreaming

Wednesday, 30 September, 2015

Deep Dream technology emulates a visit to the supermarket that I’m sure we’ve all experienced at one time or another…

Via prosthetic knowledge.

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Revenue ideas for online publishers in the ad-blocking age

Tuesday, 29 September, 2015

Online publishers and writers, independent content producers, and bloggers, are no doubt wondering what the future holds, following the recent move by Apple offering greater support for ad-blocking applications, with the roll out of its latest operating system, iOS 9. The main goal is reducing data usage on mobile devices, that Apple reasons is better utilised elsewhere.

It’s something that plenty of people will be in favour of, after all, who hasn’t had enough of websites that more resemble billboards, so choke full of advertising, they are. And as someone who values their reasonable, though modest, mobile data allocation, the little extra bang for the my dollar, that the absence of ads might occasion, will be more than welcome.

But what’s an independent content producer, such as myself, to do when a fair proportion of their incomes derives, in some way, from the revenues generated by online advertising? Depending on the sort of following, or readership, your website has, and focus of the content you write, then there are a number of options to explore and give consideration to.

Context, and content, are key

As an independent operator especially, context is key when it comes to the inclusion of advertising on your website. While certain technologies may help filter out ads, as US author and entrepreneur Seth Godin points out, people have been blocking ads forever, by ignoring them. In other words, only advertising that is directly relevant to a reader stands to be noticed.

John Gruber, publisher of Daring Fireball, goes a step further when he says present ads to readers (and podcast listeners) that you yourself would not be annoyed by. That, for one, would probably exclude many cost per click, or pay per click type formats, that can generate advertising that is not always compatible with the direction, or content focus, of your website.

A word from our sponsors

Sponsored posts, or advertorial type content, are articles typically written in partnership with an advertiser, on a topic that is related to the outlook of the website it is published on. Indeed the go-to option for many an online publisher. The goal here though is not to merely spruik a product or service, but provide a reader with something of value.

Although articles or posts of this nature can potentially blend in seamlessly with the rest of the content on your website – depending on how well written they are – to the point they may not be recognised as “advertorial”, in the interests of disclosure, and maintaining your integrity with readers, this sort of content should always be declared as sponsored content.

Our sponsor today, this week, or month, is…

Obviously not an option for everyone, as a rather large readership is required to attract would-be advertisers on a regular basis, but there is revenue to be made from having someone sponsor your website’s RSS feed for a given period of time, as the aforementioned Daring Fireball does, along with publishers such as Tina Roth Eisenberg and Stephen Hackett.

Subvert the system

Did I catch your attention there? And that constitutes nine-tenths of good advertising, does it not? Of course I’m not talking about countering the will of the world’s biggest tech companies, but rather self crafting banner style advertising that is directly pertinent to your website. In other words, a private, direct, advertising arrangement between you and someone else.

If ad-blocking apps are targeting a certain type of code that is associated with cost per click, or pay per click type advertising, then relatively simple banner ads, that do little more than link directly to an advertiser, may still be an option. Of course you’d forego much of the analytics data that is otherwise collected by way of this code, but it’s possible that may not be an issue.

Sell your services and expertise

When you start writing regularly on a certain topic you become more than a writer, you become an expert, an authority, even an influencer. You may find you eventually generate more revenue as a result of your reputation and knowledge, rather than through website advertising. It’s not only an exciting prospect, but also one that’s far from vulnerable to ad-blocking.

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How do bookshops stay in business in the electronic publishing age?

Monday, 21 September, 2015

By rights bookshops should have long since ceased to exist. Swept aside by ebooks, electronic publishing, and online communication, and square into the dustbin of history. Indeed by now these quaint shelf lined emporiums should only be recalled via dwindling references, solely in nostalgic exchanges between older and younger generations, about the way things once were.

But that’s not quite what has happened. Booksellers are still with us. And rather than going into retreat, some are expanding, and opening new shops even. For all their convenience then, why have bookworms refused to wholly embrace the electronic successors of the bound paper volume? So what is it that bookshops are doing today to prosper, and remain in business?

Rather than attempting to extract trade secrets, or delve through annual reports, I asked myself what I could learn from booksellers, simply by looking at the way they appear to be operating, on the basis I was going to open a shop. So consider this more of a thought experiment, and a series of deductions, rather than in-depth or scientific research.

Paperback is the new black

In order to broaden their customer base, booksellers have become more exclusive by making a concerted effort to reach out to a narrower band of consumers. Clearly these are people who favour the paper over the electronic, and see the endangered species that is the paper book, as having a certain desirability. But that’s not the only way booksellers define customers.

Harry Hartog, a name that somehow sounds like it should be familiar, is very much the new kid on the block when it comes to bookshops, having only opened in Canberra last October, and then Bondi Junction, Sydney, last month. But they have no doubt as to who their clientele are, being a “shop for the adventurer, the student of life and the next generation of reader”.

That’s no shop, that’s a boutique

If shopping for books was ever a perfunctory task, and a visit to a bookshop was uninspiring, and something to be dreaded, it certainly isn’t anymore. It’s not as if buyers have to navigate bland rows of overladen shelves bleaching in the cold glow of harsh fluorescent lights. Indeed, a keen eye to aesthetics on the part of booksellers, has transformed book shopping in recent years.

It’s not just about books

Once upon a time a bookshop used to be just that, a bookshop. You may have been able to source items of stationery, and maybe there was a shelf or two bearing accessories of some sort, but that was it. Today booksellers stock just about anything you care to imagine, from chocolate, lamps, posters, ornaments, toys, board games, to DVDs, and more, but why should I go on?

Ariel Booksellers, in Paddington, Sydney is a case in point. Scan through some of the photos of their merchandise and it becomes clear that booksellers are turning to diversification as a means of attracting, and retaining customers. Bookshops don’t have to become one stop shops, but it can’t be too bad for business to offer customers a few extra options.

Engaging customers

Social media, and the likes of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, are boons for contemporary bookshops. Here are platforms that allow them to quickly and readily connect with their customers, helping them maintain a vital edge. Online channels aren’t the only ways of fostering interaction though, and book launches, and community events, also play a role.

Small is better?

In the bookshop survival stakes, you’d think the bigger operators would have the upper hand, on account of being part of a wider chain, and the benefits that must bestow. Sadly, that’s not always the situation, as shop closures, some years ago, by high profile sellers such as Borders, and Angus and Robertson, illustrates. So if the big shops can’t make it, what hope do others have?

More than you might imagine. Smaller, independent, booksellers, especially owner operated stores, are probably more motivated to focus on their customers, and build up relationships, something that may not always be a priority for the bigger players. Buyers are also more likely to find staff at smaller shops better attuned to their interests, than they might elsewhere.

Electronic purveyors of paper

So far it’s been a case of the electronic supplanting the paper when it comes to books, but Sydney based bookseller Big Ego Books have adopted another tack, they operate as an electronic, or online only, seller of paper books. Hardly groundbreaking, but perhaps their specialty, sourcing “rare and hard-to-find titles”, is. There’s market niche for you.

And there we have it…

Well, a few suggestions at least. I for one am not keen to see the end of bookshops, but it certainly looks like plenty are doing something right, so hopefully they’ll be with us for a long time to come. As to the notion of opening a bookshop, it could hardly be considered a lost cause, even if it might not be easy, but here at least are a few pieces of the puzzle.

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How fast is the speed of light, and other assorted links

Friday, 18 September, 2015

If you have a lazy forty-five minutes then check out this animation portraying the journey of a photon of light from the Sun, its origin point, out to the orbit of Jupiter, by Alphonse Swinehart. Forty-five minutes, that’s how long it takes, travelling at the speed of light.

Light speed may be the fastest at which any object can travel in the universe, but it doesn’t seem the least bit speedy here. Until you appreciate the distances being covered, and see how quickly the planets whip by as you move outwards passed them.

Sarcasm, “the lowest form of wit but the highest form of intelligence”, to quote Oscar Wilde… used at the right time, in the right measure, it can be quite effective:

Sarcasm has many uses, depending on the degree of sharpness. The most common is to allow someone to show a negative emotion but soften the blow with humor. “You can express anger but do it in a socially acceptable way,” says Roger Kreuz, a professor of psychology at the University of Memphis.

Introvert Freelance is a series of humorous comics by French freelance designer and illustrator Sow Ay, that explores the life of, you guessed it, an introvert freelance worker. Can’t this client just email me? Indeed…

Art installation by Jakub Hadrava

Keen to raise funds to go towards restoring their dilapidated medieval-era church in the Czech village of Lukova, residents turned to Czech artist Jakub Hadrava, in the hope he could find a way to entice more visitors to the area.

Hadrava promptly set about creating an installation made up of shrouded, ghost like figures, to occupy the church’s pews, an idea equal parts creepy, intriguing, and successful, judging by the influx of tourists to the church in recent times.

Ten percent of children aged between three and six display psychopathic traits, according to UNSW researcher Eva Kimonis, who is part of an international team that developed a diagnostic tool to help identify such children.

More than 200 children aged between three and six took part in the study, which found that 10 per cent showed callous and unemotional traits such as lacking remorse or empathy for the feelings of other people.

It is hoped that the tool will aid in picking out, and treating, children who may be at risk of engaging in criminal behaviour later in life.

Uncertainty… that unnerving feeling of not quite knowing what’s going to happen next. Is this something you thrive on, or does it keep you awake at night?

Research, or finding out what we can about an unknown situation, might help, but such fact finding is not always useful, as no two occurrences are necessarily the same. What is it they say? The only certainty is uncertainty…

Research may help reduce uncertainty, but it can never provide certainty. Research is an errorful process that peers into an obscure reality. Determining what is true is plagued by the problem of induction, which was recognised in antiquity by Pyrrhonian sceptic Sextus Empiricus. As British philosopher David Hume explains, it is a mistake to infer “that instances of which we have had no experience resemble those of which we have had experience”.

There’s no excuse to not use emojis now, following the recent addition of a middle finger, or flip it, emoji character. Do you think it will prove popular?

At last, a camera that will help us to take photos that are a little more unique… Camera Restricta, by way of several algorithms, powered by GPS and geo-tagging technologies, will determine how many other photos have been snapped at the same location in the past.

If a certain number of pictures have already been taken, the camera’s shutter will close up. Now it is that a smart-camera, or what?

It’s a hoary old chestnut isn’t it? The nation that McDonald’s restaurants have secret menus, and alternative dishes, that can be ordered only on request. Customers and staff were discussing the topic at a store I stopped at once on the Central Coast, with the conclusion being there was no such thing.

That doesn’t appear to be the opinion of head office though, who are quoted as saying that their restaurants do have “off-menu creations”. Seemingly you have to ask repeatedly though. Would you be up for that?

You heard right: McDonald’s has a selection of off-menu creations that don’t appear on our menu, but are available to anyone who asks. And we’re not talking a McGangbang or any other spurious and, frankly, offensive do-it-yourself creations that have been circulated on the Internet in recent years. There is a legitimate secret menu, scrawled on the back of a placemat by Ray Kroc himself in the late 1950s, that has remained buried under a missile silo in southern Illinois – until today!

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