Lifelogging

The rear LCD display on a Flip Video camrea

The rear LCD display on a Flip Video camera (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Often today people worry about surveillance by the government with CCTV everywhere and intelligence agencies able to view what we do online (hi, Mr/Mrs NSA/GCHQ person) but there’s another side to the technology which is becoming ever more popular.

Many of us carry some form of video camera, I have a smartphone and a good compact camera that can record HD video, in fact I used this the other day to record a worker at our factory who was adamant he could cut a worktop with a saw that everyone else said was clearly blunt.  The resulting video is a possible candidate for YouTube, complete with Top Gear style “four hours later…” captions, as I joked at the time.

We now have the ability to record everything we experience in some way or another and people feel the need, or the desire, to do exactly that and share it with the world, even in their most intimate moments, as if to prove that they did it, or how good at it they were, so to speak.  It’s a standing joke that Instagram and Facebook are a repository of photos of people’s dinner but in some ways it’s true.  In any pub you go in there are groups of drinkers gurning at smartphone cameras, never again will you be able to get utterly pished without it being recorded.  I once had my glasses “borrowed” by a woman whose friend took a photo of her, wearing my glasses, with me kissing her cheek.  Months later a woman stood by me at a bar turned and said “I’ve got a photo of you on my Facebook.”  Same woman, same glasses.  Technology has made it simpler, quicker and cheaper to create a digital photo album or slide show that, without needing shelf-space or the setting up of a projector, can be virtually infinite in size, accessible anywhere, searchable and sorted by date.

The next stage is again in the area of wearable technology.  Google’s Glass project, along with other similar techie-eyewear, promise the ability to instantly record anything you can see, which has worried many privacy campaigners despite the devices clearly having a red, Borg-like, light on the side when they’re recording.

The other type of device is specially designed for recording just about everything you experience – the Lifelogger.  Two devices have appeared so far, Autographer and Narrative, which are intended to document your life while you’re wearing it of course.  While you’re not you can imagine it sitting there wondering where you’d gone.   The two have different approaches, Autographer uses five sensors to detect location and changes in light and motion to take a photo when you change location of when it thinks you’re doing something interesting like running after someone.  Narrative takes a picture twice a minute.  When downloaded you can then look through what they’ve logged and perhaps see things you’d missed or remember something you’d forgotten – which might be both a blessing and a curse depending on the event.

One day we could all be carrying a multi-sensored device that, in the event of an emergency, could log what’s happened to you and call for help – a kind of personal Black Box Recorder.  This is happening in cars already, as the Russian meteorite impact last year showed – the event captured by an unprecedented number of witnesses thanks to dashcams and smartphones.  In-car video is also useful for insurance companies, TV clip shows and YouTube, recent personal experience of idiot drivers makes me want one more than ever.

Whether the current Lifelogging technology has a use is down to whether it’ll record anything useful or interesting but the idea has been picked up by emergency services who have considered something like Glass to both record an incident and how it’s dealt with (possibly for legal, in case of being sued, reasons, inevitably these days) while also providing vital information to the medic or police officer in real-time.  Already trials have shown that police wearing body cams are seeing positive results in terms of arrested criminals accepting their guilt.

So we hurtle onwards into the recorded future, the problem could be having time to sort the wheat from the chaff of all these Lifelogged images and indeed where to store them all.

Looks like we’ll need a bigger server.

The Speed of Social Networks

Old News - canon rebel t2i

Old News – canon rebel t2i (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

Once upon a time news travelled at the speed of the fastest runner, as the story of the battle of Marathon demonstrated, with the information being eventually wheezed out to a gathered crowd.  Later news from abroad depended on the speed of a ship and the reliability of the wind.  Eventually many people received news by newspapers or weekly newsreels.  Even with the advent of Wire Services one thing still delayed the news – the need to get reporters and photographers to where the witnesses are.

Now though this has all changed.  News services monitor Twitter and anyone with a modern smartphone and decent data connection can be an on-the-spot reporter.  The recent Russian meteorite was not only one of the most well recorded in history, with the wealth of dashcam footage available rapidly on YouTube and the like but it was also very quickly reported on via the internet.  The BBC’s Horizon programme described the possible chain of events surrounding the future collapse of La Cumbre Vieja on La Palma, an event that could cause an Atlantic-wide mega-tsunami.  One aspect was the way the news of the event would be transmitted – within moments of the collapse beginning there would inevitably be a torrent of Tweets and photos on Twitter and Facebook.

The near instantaneous sharing of news worldwide is an unexpected side effect of services that are regarded generally as just a way to let your friends know, instantaneously, what you had for breakfast.  In the future governments as well as the news agencies will be watching out for keywords in public tweets and Facebook posts to gain early notifications that something serious is happening, from natural disasters to man-made tragedies.  This early warning can enable emergency plans to be activated sooner, and more lives be saved.

News has changed forever, from the speed of sail to the speed of light.

Becoming Too Human?

English: The following is the author's descrip...

English: The following is the author’s description of the photograph quoted directly from the photograph’s Flickr page. “Researchers from many fields will use the new IBM Blue Gene/P supercomputer at the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility. Photo, courtesy of Argonne National Laboratory.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It seems that Artificial Intelligence still has some way to go.

Last year a computer was given YouTube to look at and it learned how to identify a cat, now it has been revealed that IBM’s Watson computer which famously won a game of Jeopardy on American TV was given access to Urban Dictionary as part of its education in the English language – to enable it to understand the nuances of the language and slang terms.  Unfortunately, due to the level of fruity language in Urban Dictionary and its inability to distinguish normal from profane language it simply learned how to swear, at one point using the word “bullshit” in answer to a researcher’s question.

As commenter Bleary said on Gizmodo UK it would have changed the film 2001: A Space Odyssey somewhat – “My mind…it’s going….I can fucking feel it.”   “Open the pod bay doors HAL,”  “Fuck you Dave”

Hmm, if the computers can’t decide what’s appropriate in polite society what else could they be capable of?…

[Gizmodo UK]

Just as an aside – as I was choosing the image at the top, of IBM’s Blue Gene supercomputer I realised that David Bowie’s Blue Jean was on the radio.  Spooky.

Let’s Talk About Stats, Baby

The Runner.

The Runner. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some people are willingly having their lives tallied and quantified via their mobiles.  The stats are everywhere, how many Facebook friends have you got?  How many Twitter followers, how many likes on that post, how many retweets?  Fitness trackers like Endomondo, Nike+ and Strava let you post your times for the walk to work or that bike ride and compete with your friends, the site Fitocracy even lets you directly battle against others for who gets fittest first by completing challenges against each other.  Where have you checked in on Foursquare?  When and where you have you used a condom? (the latter could be open to exaggeration).

Almost every part of your life can be tracked, logged, rated and compared with friends and strangers, your whole life becoming a competition without a prize other than feeling that you’ve achieved more than someone else, the bragging rights rather than the rewards of the enjoyment of the exercise, the outdoors or just feeling better in yourself (exercise has been shown many times to improve peoples’ mood).  On the other hand studies have shown that such competitive apps can also encourage people to exercise, and of course it can be useful to keep track of your fitness.

The other side of the coin are the stats that tell you whether you’re reaching people with what you want to say.

Once you start blogging, or sharing your pictures on Flickr or videos on YouTube something strange often happens.  You start out thinking “I’m not bothered if nobody reads it, well, I’m happy if just one person sees it.”  Soon though you see the stats page and out of curiosity you look at it.  The first time you see a blip on the line your heart jumps a little as the thought that you’ve made a connection with someone, then comes the wonder of the fact that the person who looked at what you’d posted isn’t your mum or dad, your friend down the road or anyone else on Facebook but someone on the other side of the world.

Then there’s the first “Like” or first follower which gives you the knowledge that you’re doing something right.  You naturally value what you’ve created but now someone else does too.  Once you have followers you start to feel the need to give them something in return, to create something they’ll appreciate.  You could experience the rollercoaster of emotions; maybe anxiety that you haven’t posted in a while, doubts about what you’ve created when you don’t get any views but then your next post receives a flurry of likes and comments and that warm feeling of contributing to the world in your own way returns.

There’s no escaping the stats, they’re everywhere.

57 Channels and Nothing On

WATCH TV

WATCH TV (Photo credit: Martin Ritter)

Today’s talk is about 21st century distraction, and repeats on tv – two for the price of one.  Ok, settle down, stop checking your notifications.  Oh, for goodness sake.  Thank you, now…

Ooh, an email…

It’s too easy today, you get home, put on some food, put on the tv for some background noise while you eat and bang, before you know it you’re laid on the sofa watching a repeat of Top Gear, Man vs Food, Mock The Week, Letterman (your country/mileage may vary).  You start to feel a bit tired because of the meal you’ve eaten and think I don’t have time to do what I’d intended to do.  The thing is though that when the UK first got digital terrestrial tv it seemed to offer so much, so many new channels, so much choice for everyone.  What we’ve got is occasional new content but mostly repeats and we watch them anyway.  How right Bruce was.

I don’t read or listen to music as much as I used to and for me the reason is that with only five channels there were large chunks of time when there was nothing remotely interesting to me on, so I had to go and find something else to do.  Now there’s always something I can watch even if it’s a repeat, and that’s the lazy, easy option.  Often the tired feeling vanishes when I start something more interesting.

But it doesn’t end with dragging yourself away from Mountain Pies and Aston Martins, I sit down here to write a post and there’s other enticing options – my mouse drifts towards Hot UK Deals, the National Lottery, shopping sites, other blogs, for you it may be Twitter or Facebook, iPlayer or YouTube, comics or news sites.

So think “am I really tired or is it boredom, how much more satisfied will I feel if I get on with a bit of that project, how will I feel if I just sit here for the next three hours?”  Sometimes the answer will be “I’ll feel fine with that, thankyou for asking” in which case grab a cuppa and stay put, else just get up and do something, you’ll feel better for it.

I For One Welcome Our Feline Overlords

Portrait of a male tabby cat

Portrait of a male tabby cat (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was inevitable.  It was irresistible.  It is this month’s excuse for a cat picture.

Minnesota recently played host to the worlds first Cat Video Film Festival to honour the joy that our furry friends’ recorded antics have given us.  Follow the links to see more, though please watch the Ninja Cat video recommended by Gizmodo’s reporter.

[Gizmodo UK]

Cataloguing The World

English: A Google Street View Camera Car (2008...

English: A Google Street View Camera Car (2008 Subaru Impreza Five Door) showcased on Google campus in Mountain View, CA, USA. taken by myself [User:Kowloonese] using a Canon digital camera. The picture was taken on Google Campus in Mountain View, CA, USA. Release for Public Domain. Kowloonese (talk) 04:53, 18 November 2010 (UTC) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The world is big, lots of land, rivers, seas.  Our history is vast too.  The internet contains ever growing volumes of information about both.  And videos of kittens.

Search engines help with finding things on the internet of course, and even the history part as more historical documents are digitized and more history is recorded digitally, whether it be art, music, myth and legend or epic tales.

Google though continues to go beyond its core business, using search ad revenues to actually benefit people – providing free services such as YouTube (which it bought in 2006), Google Translate, Google Docs, Google Maps and so on – which are also available from Microsoft and other providers too – as well as the Android operating system which in its Ice Cream Sandwich version (4.0) is maturing into a very nice OS.  Then there’s the suite of desktop apps including Sketchup, Google Earth,  Picasa and more.  The company even looked skyward, producing Sky Map which is now an open source product.

One wonderfully useful thing Google gave us, via their fleets of cars with Johnny Five wannabees strapped to the roofs, is Street View.  It’s so useful to be able to actually see what the place you’re going to looks like, to see your route, turn by turn at street level because using our visual memory is far better that trying to remember an abstract set of directions on a top-down map alone. They even added traffic information to their Maps product recently.

Even this though was not the end as they’ve Street Viewed railway journeys, cycle routes, footpaths and walking trails and now they’re going to be photographing towpaths along rivers and canals in the UK too.  There will no doubt be privacy complaints again and parts of riversides across the country will become strangely hazy when viewed online but it will also give us more strange and funny discoveries in the images as we’ve had from the roadgoing cameras.

Another new Google project revealed this week sees the search behemoth collecting and documenting languages from around the world that are on the verge of extinction via videos, audio recordings and other documentation. The result will be presented via an interactive website.

Some people however won’t like their other announcement – a service that allows companies to track their employees’ movements via their work phones.  Well, two out of three’s not bad.