Goodbye privacy, hello future!

Some of you may have seen recent reports of google building augmented reality glasses. In case you haven’t been tracking where all this tech is heading, we should all be amazed or terrified by what this means for privacy in the very near future… We’re about a year away from the ability to easily walk around with vr glasses on and ID everyone around us and download all their data in realtime.

Actually, we’re there now but it takes a bit of hacking if you wanted it the info a pair of vr goggles (you can already get your phone to list personal data about any women nearby who happen to post their location intentionally or otherwise). You can buy video glasses for about $50 now on ebay. Lots of folks are in the process of building them with bluetooth so they can send video and receive data straight your smart device while you walk. Once the video is on your phone, it can be in the cloud internet and servers can be searching it for faces or anything else. Since there’s tagged photos of almost everyone online now its not to hard to connect the photo and location with the real person (note that not having a facebook account doesn’t necessarily help since FB sometimes gathers “shadow profiles” of people that don’t have accounts).

If you are in the NSA/FBI/CIA then your could easily be doing searches from the names/faces of people nearby on all the databases and credit card records they have for everyone. So you could pretty much walk around and see a live feed of all personal information of everyone you see on the street. This really isn’t scifi now. I’m not making this up, read these two articles…
The first details a new system for ID’ing people by searching 26 million images a second from databases of public photos, the second discusses the new NSA center being built in Utah to house all (yes ALL) phone email and other communications made by every US citizen. The government is now recording this 24/7 thanks to recent legislation that made this legal after the Bush administration did it illegally for a while. This really isn’t a paranoid AM radio rant, it is well documented by the media.

Oh and another thing, I was at a security trade show last week and they had a camera that can shoot 180 degree gigapixel images in near realtime. The demo they had was a live stream of a port in I think it was Virginia that happened to include the windows of a local university’s dorms. The camera can shoot 150, 15 megapixel images in a 180 degree panorama every 45 seconds, so the frame rate is about 1 image per minute. The demos had essentially an HD resolution live video of every window in the entire dorm and no they don’t have to get permission to do this (its for homeland security!). You can buy your own camera for only $120,000 or you could build one yourself for about $15K in hardware. (Seriously, we built about the same camera ourselves for the Gigavision Project in about 200 hours of work and I have no electrical engineering experience only a biology degree. Ours only could do an image every 5-10 minutes since we used cheaper hardware and off the shelf software)

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Posted in Cool Science, Geeky, Politics | 17 Comments

Finally some snazzy looking VR/AR goggles

I recently bought a pair of video glasses to help with setting up time-lapse cameras and unfortunately it seems like the existing selection of consumer VR video goggles sucks just as bad as they did the last time I looked 10 years ago. I used to dream of the day when you could actually directly mix reality for people wearing VR glasses by running a live feed from people’s field of view through a computer and back into augmented reality (AR) goggles enabling you to selectively mix goggle transparency with computer altered reality. Stare at a single spot for a minute and the walls start to melt, objects smoothly twist and transform with computer assisted hallucinations. The potential for creating amazing trippy experiences for people seems unlimited. The appearance of smartphones provides a perfect platform to enable this kind of work but the lack of good goggles makes the development of really immersive experiences a challenge.

Fortunately the future may finally be arriving with the appearance of the Lumus glasses. Lets hope they are affordable and actually work.

via TechCrunch

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Posted in Geeky, Inspiration, VR, Visuals | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Lawrence Lessig on the Occupy movement

I love Lawrence Lessig, he is very thoughtful and well spoken in his approach to things. After conquering the copyright world apparently he has moved on to thinking about capitalism. I highly recommend this great interview with Diane Rehm from where they talk about the Occupy movement and intelligent ways to get money out of politics:
http://thedianerehmshow.org/shows/2011-10-18/lawrence-lessig-republic-lost

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Posted in Economics, Politics, Sustainability | Tagged , , , | 14 Comments

The Flaw

I just saw the Premiere of David Sington’s movie The Flaw at Sundance. The movie explores the root causes of the financial crisis in the US that led to the recent global economic meltdown. I found it astonishing. One might expect the familiar discussion of collateralized debt and predatory lending, and the filmmakers in Q & A after the movie said they set out to tell that story but stumbled onto something completely different.

In the last 30 years, US GDP has doubled, but real wages for 90% of Americans have gone down in that time. Think about that for a second, total US financial prosperity has increased 100% but 90% of us are making less money. The upshot is that ALL that money, the 100% increase in US GDP, has gone to the other 10% who are the richest people in America (for instance in 2006, 800 billion dollars or 6% of the total US GDP went to just 15,000 people in the US). What the filmakers noticed is the only other time income inequality got as high as it is now was in 1929, the year of the last financial collapse. They go on to make a pretty compelling argument of how these numbers led to the current crisis.

Basically, to maintain the mid-20th century experience of increasing prosperity for the 90% of Americans with less income, the 10% who are actually making more money lent some of it to the rest of us through easy credit (credit cards and mortgages). This provides the rest of the population with  a social and economic experience of increased wealth and economic growth without the need to actually increase wages. There’s an additional benefit that all those loans further transfer wealth upwards through loan fees and interest payments. And these are no small numbers… in 2007, bank profits accounted for 40% of all profits in America.

The film suggests that a fundamental cause of the boom-bust bubbles of the last 30 years (most recently the internet boom and the housing bubble) goes something like this… Because wages are stagnant, normal people can no longer improve their socio-economic status through hard work. So when there appears to be growth potential in a new market (i.e. the internet or houses) middle class people see it as a way to actually move up in the world and are likely to pour their life savings into it. The filmmakers found strong evidence that the most recent collapse wasn’t really caused by a massive increase in loans to risky borrowers as is commonly perceived. Rather it was that people who once were stable home owners were turning into people who were a credit risk. As house prices went up, more people began to refinance to pull equity out of their houses, thinking they could make a lot of money in real estate or pay off their other credit debts. But since house prices were way over actual values, people were actually just spending the last of the real equity they had accumulated in their lives. When house prices reset towards normal, once stable people were stuck with huge mortgage payments on houses worth a fraction of the inflated market value and they defaulted on their loans, losing the equity they had spent their whole lives accumulating.

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Posted in Economics, Review | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Ladybug Lift-Off

here’s one for the kiddos

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Slow Motion Ladybug Takeoff

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Exit Through the Gift Shop

Watching Exit Through the Gift Shop [link], the Banksy documentary… there’s a scene where Banksy takes the documentary guy way upstairs to a back room in his wherehouse. He pulls a dusty box off an old wooden shelf and pulls out a wad of 1 pound notes. They’d replaced the queen’s face on the notes with Lady Di’s face with creepy eyes.  He says they did a million of them and were going to throw them off a building downtown. But they took a few hundred to a festival to hand out one day and no one realized they were fakes. Everyone just spent them. And then Banksy waves to the wall of square-stacked dusty boxes. “We have a million quid in here. You can go to jail for 10 years for that, so I don’t know what to do with them, we can’t hand them out.”

In the future everyone will be anonymous for 15 minutes

We have the tools to create reality now. DIY. What can we make with that? Particularly when the tools we can create can be just as easily used to facilitate worse realities.  I’ve been thinking about this a lot in the context of the Gigavision project [link]. We are creating a camera that can take a billion pixel resolution image every 15 minutes and stream it to the web in almost real time. To do good science with this camera you would want tools that let you identify and tag every plant in the picture. Then attach that plant’s images and location to every other piece of information known about that plant. Then step back a level and attach all the species and behavior information from that location to every other available group of the same plants in any location in the world where data was collected. Connect this to additional datastreams from photos sites like flickr where any image geotagged near that plant’s location with pixels matching the plant’s signature would have their information harvested. Add in genetic data for each plant in the landscape and all their relatives. Then build the tools to do this into a simple protocol that runs on the cloud. Anyone who buys a camera with the right specs or creates a high res image set can feed in their images as well and use all the available tools for whatever data collection they want. Make the whole thing open source / open standards. Pretty cool stuff for science education.

It wouldn’t be hard to make camera systems that only cost $2-3,000 per camera if they were engineered them in bulk and the system became a standard. So while we’re happily watching plants grow someone else installs a few cameras in the city and tags people instead. Then connects that person to all their data with the same data structure we use to make it easy to learn how all the plants are connected. In half a day I could rewrite our code so that if my iPhone ran of the apps that broadcasts your position to the web, my gigavision camera could track me from up on the hill and film my movements through the city throughout the day.

That would make a pretty sweet operating system for a police state. And its not that the powers that be aren’t trying to build the same things to use for nefarious purposes; rather that I’m pretty sure what we have in mind is a lot cheaper and would really work in all the creepy ways they dream of.

What do you do when you find you’ve could envision something that if it were slotted into the world, it would become a real thing and the world would be different.

I heard once that the way ICBMs were originally designed to find their targets (pre GPS I assume) is they fly up into space, take a picture of the sky, compare it to sky maps stored on the warhead and then calculate their position on the earth. We can nuke any city on the planet into dust in under 30 minutes with this cool little hack. Whoever thought that up was brilliant. So what does right livelihood mean in this new era when a good idea can be adapted for anything?

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Posted in Inspiration, Intention, Sustainability, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Geotagged images build Rome in a day

A research group at University of North Carolina has developed an algorithm that allows them to create full 3D models of popular tourist sites using images from Flickr (see video below). This in itself is nothing new, but the UNC version was fast enough to build a model of Rome on a single personal computer in less than a day.

As a scientist interested in developing novel ways to monitor wild areas and track the impact of climate change on the environment, I find this type of research very exciting. Currently more than 4 million geotagged photos are uploaded to Flickr every month. Think of each of these images as a time-stamped observation of  a certain physical location — in light of research such as the UNC project, it is not to hard to imagine that we could develop algorithms to harvest useful scientific data from the wealth of geotagged images taken daily. Add to this smart phone photos that have directional data and you get a pretty powerful dataset. I envision a set of tools that watches Flickr and other photos sites and any time there are more than a few images from a similar time and place, the images could be analyzed together to add location specific pixel data to a google earth layer. Over time this starts to build an ever-growing model of observations of the biological state of the earth. This has huge implications for our ability to collect plant and animal life-cycle information and to track landscape-scale biological changes and climate change impacts on the Earth.

Eric Fischer has done some fascinating work analyzing and cataloging geotagged images on flickr. He estimates that 0.8 percent of the world has been photographed and geotagged so far. Which seem to me a pretty impressive number considering this process has only been taking place on for a few years.

Rome in a day:
YouTube Preview Image

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The Amish choose a different life

A week ago I watched a video “The Amish: A People of Preservation” on Netflix Streaming. I found it interesting that this group of people are living in the US but adhering to an additional strict code of life to the laws of the US. They are choosing to limit, restrict, and control so much of their lives with their code: The “Ordnung” (German for “order”). From one perspective it sounds terrible – not the kind of thing I would find appealing. But they do it for a reason – to preserve a way of life that they find meaningful.

Are there things that we enjoy, but that might result in a better life if we gave them up?
I was reminded of this video tonight by an NPR story that touched on life in small Appalachian communities in the 60s where there was no electricity. How after dinner, neighbors would entertain each other with singing and riddles – rather then have television or whatever entertain them.

Tangent alert!
In writing this, I’m reminded of a strange thought that I had while travelling in India.  Life there for so many people was incredibly difficult. They were struggling for life. But in a way their lives seemed more noble, their day to day actions were to stay alive – and to support their community. But I’m sure they would like an easier life – and I hope they can attain that.

However, I found it sad in reflection, in comparison, to look at what we have achieved in the US and other wealthy countries. People use their wealth and wealth of time on distraction – terrible television, mindless games (also wonderful television and awesome games, to be fair). Its just kind of weird. Is this the goal?

Child labor is often portrayed as this horrible aspect of the developing world (and it can be, sometimes), but it can also be a simple, fun, community activity that has purpose. They made this point in the Amish film too. How children quickly learn how to do all of the things that the adults can do that sustain their life – and quickly get the responsibility as well.

I know much of this is romanticized. But it’s something to think about. What is meaningful in your life?

An excerpt:

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On netflix:

http://www.netflix.ca/Movie/The_Amish_A_People_of_Preservation/70028005?trkid=1889703

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Firefly Light Trails

Firefly Light

We’ve all seen the ever more amazing shots people have been doing drawing light onto extended photo exposures using  LEDs.

Kristian Cvecek in Germany took it a step further by capturing fireflies with the same technique. The results are delightful.

(via dailymail)

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Fog dance

Since Topher and I do make timelapse for a living, people are always emailing me cool movies they find online. There are people doing some amazing work out there, but occasionally I come across something that really stands out from the crowd. This video by Simon Cristen of fogscapes from the bay area is a feast of mind blowing timelapse sequences. (best viewed fullscreen and in HD here)

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