Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Summer of Tech and Travel

This blog has been on hiatus over the end of summer. The extended break between blog posts has not been for want of subject matter, however, as this year has seen many new digital devices and personal gadgets arrive on the scene. I have already gotten my hands on the Nexus 4 smartphone, FitBit One and  Basis band sleep and activity trackers, Google Glass, and a Pebble smartwatch. I am also expecting a number of other devices that are not yet available but should be coming off the production line within the next several months: a Memoto lifelogging camera, an assortment of GlassKap accessories for Google Glass, the Recon Jet heads-up display, and an NFC ring.

Friday, June 14, 2013


First World Problems: Selected for Project Glass—still waiting for invite to pick it up
Created on
The Sweet Pain of Anticipation 

Patience is requisite of early adopters, who frequently learn about a pending gadget or device before a company is ready to begin widespread production. In this past year alone, that has been the case for numerous products, such as the Pebble and Basis smartwatches, the Memoto lifelogging camera, the Recon Jet heads-up display, and, of course, Google Glass.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Please Don't Punch Me in the Face: The Fears of a Google Glass Explorer

B&W image of a fearful man partially covering his face with his hand
Photo credit: Wojciech Dziados
(CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)
I must admit it—I have concerns. I’m a member of the cohort of 10,000 Glass Explorers, the early adopters who are among the first to get their hands on Google’s foray into the heads-up display wearable computing market. While there are plenty of reasons to be excited about the product in general and the opportunity to be a part of Project Glass in particular, this post is about the fears I have about wearing the device once I eventually receive it.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Recon Instruments Unveils "Jet," a New Heads-Up Display

front view of Recon Instruments' new Jet heads-up display device
Recon Instruments' new wearable computing device. Image courtesy of Jet press kit.
Look out, Glasscompetition is heating up. Recon Instruments unveiled Jet, a new heads-up display, at this year's Google I/O developer conference, introducing a sporty new addition to the nascent commercial market for wearable computing.

White model of Recon Jet balanced on a finger
Jet boasts of its "perfect balance."
Image courtesy of Jet press kit.
Following the success of Google's Glass Explorer program, Recon has launched its own Twitter-based application process for those interested in being among the first to procure the device. The cleverly-named "Jet Pilot Program" features the hashtag #SeeTheFuture and offers participants the chance to "win Recon Jet," although it is unclear whether winners would be asked to purchase the product like those selected by Google's #ifihadglass campaign.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

“Melon,” a High-tech Headband, Might Aid Metacognition

A project designer cradling a Melon headband in his hands
Image courtesy of Melon. Used with permission.
Metacognition is the process of reflecting on one’s own thought processes in order to spot inefficiencies and discover effective strategies to improve one’s learning and thinking. “Melon,” a hardware/software duo currently under development, may facilitate such self-reflection by detecting and analyzing users’ brain activity.
In concert with a sleek headband device designed to detect certain kinds of mental activity, a new mobile app purports to chart “focus” and enable users to track their behavior, analyze patterns in their mental states, and train themselves with simple exercises. The design team hopes that the product will turn “focus into something measurable, understandable, and improvable” and enable users to monitor how variables such as activities, time of day, and environment impact their concentration.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Google Glass and Our Sci-Fi Present, Part I: Molly’s Got a Rider

Headphone earbuds reminiscent of Bradbury's "thimble radios"
Kevin P. Trovini     (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)
Although, by its very nature, science fiction is speculative writing, it is not necessarily predictive. Sometimes, however, new technologies resemble fictional inventions in ways that make authors seem remarkably prescient. Witness the iPad, which bears striking resemblance to the PADDs long featured in Star Trek series (and can even mimic its fictional display iconography) and headphone earbuds, a concept which Ray Bradbury envisioned as “thimble radios” in his 1953 novel Fahrenheit 451. Now, Google Glass is among the latest technologies to make seeming prophets of science fiction writers.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Neuroplasticity and How the Internet is Rewiring Our Brains

Conventional wisdom has long held that the structure of the brain is fixed and unmalleable--although memories and abilities may change, the basic wiring of the brain remains constant. In recent decades, however, cognitive research has begun to challenge that prevailing view. 

Positron emission tomography (PET) scan -- National 
Institutes of Health via Wikimedia Commons
Although neuroplasticity--the brain's ability to reorganize itself and adapt certain structures for various purposes--was theorized in 1949 by Donald Hebb in the postulate now know by the colloquial expression "neurons that fire together wire together," the technology to objectively test this principle has not been refined enough for practical scientific application until more recently.  As Sharon Begley points out in a 2007 article in Time, technologies such as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) tests and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) have provided neuroscientists with the tools by which to explore the ways in which the physical structures of the brain change in response to what we think.

If this principle is accurate, it suggests that repeated use of certain neural pathways strengthens them, reinforcing the synaptic associations between neurons and making those connections more likely to activate in the future. It also implies the opposite--that unused neural circuitry might atrophy or be reappropriated by the brain for other functions.

If sound-bite media and flashy audiovisual Internet elements promote brevity and entertainment, might the ubiquity of electronic devices, with their attendant interruptions, be conditioning the brains of digital technology users to crave the sugar buzz of novelty and insipid distractions rather than a healthy diet of thoughtful rumination and focused, contemplative musing? Is it possible that reliance on the Internet as a source of information is rewiring technophilic brains so as to erode their ability to meaningfully analyze that information?

Author Nicholas Carr writes about these concerns in his 2010 book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. He postulates that the increasing use of digital technologies has negative consequences for analytical thought and memory consolidation, the process in which short-term, "working" memories are transferred to long-term memory.

Now, as Laughing Squid and Viral Viral Videos point out, a new animated video by Epipheo offers an articulate synopsis of Carr's thesis: the frenetic pace and constant interruption of the Internet presents users with a barrage of often trivial information to the detriment of the kind of deep thinking and learning that can only take place in the calm of attentive reflection.

Take a moment to watch the video to learn more about Carr's argument--then ponder the irony of receiving that message in a four-minute multimedia distillation of his 280-page scholarly book.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Wil Wheaton: Why It's Awesome to Be a Nerd

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore     (CC BY-SA 2.0)
In a panel discussion at the Calgary Comic Expo last weekend, actor and blogger Wil Wheaton (best known for his portrayal of Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation) responded to the question of an audience member who wished to record the erstwhile teen star's response for her newborn daughter to someday see. The YouTube video of that response has  quickly spread through social media and garnered over 335,000 views in one week.

Jennifer Black-Moir, who posted the video on April 27, describes it as "a message to my daughter on why it is awesome to be a nerd." Wheaton addresses her newborn daughter Violet, welcoming her to the world and stating that being a nerd is
"not about what you love—it's about how you love it. So there's going to be a thing in your life that you love […] The way you love that and the way that you find other people who love it the way you do is what makes being a nerd awesome."

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Google Glass, Augmented Reality, & Wearable Computing

The concept of “augmented reality,” in which digital information overlays the natural sensory experience of the user, seems to be gaining traction in Silicon Valley as a driving force behind a new breed of personal electronic devices.
Photo credit: Antonio Zugaldia     (CC BY 2.0)
Andy Clark explores the potential for this technology in his 2003 book Natural-Born Cyborgs: Minds, Technologies, and the Future of Human Intelligence, writing that the use of these “digital resources to enhance our ordinary daily experience of the world and to provide new means of physical-virtual interaction is likely to play a major role in the next decade” (53). Whether such products end up being as game changing—or as commercially viable—as the corporate execs and tech gurus behind them hope they will remains to be seen.