Category Archives: social media

Why can’t we make an open source substitute for Facebook/Google etc?

Google is taking flak because of forcing people to join Google+ just so they can comment on a YouTube video, presumably so they can gather more personal data for their ad targetting. Facebook seems to take flak every week for yet another privacy abuse of its users. Twitter hasn’t been in trouble for ages.

It seems to me that when we can make open source office applications and open source operating systems, that an open source general purpose social networking platform should be perfectly feasible. On it, people would be able to keep in touch, share videos, messages, emails, pictures and text, hang out and chat using text or audio-video, comment generally to the world about anything, and could do so freely without having to give up their anonymity, or have to be bombarded with ads.

There can’t be a fundamental patent problem stopping it, because there are lots of sites that let people share videos and text and other kinds of files. There are so many ways to do it that any particular patent can be circumvented.

If our personal data is so useful, the platform could even provide a way of people collecting it for themselves and then selling it for a discount to any company they want to sell it to, but the initial value would be theirs, not some big company.

I did a quick search, search being something else that could become open source, running on distributed peer to peer networks, our own PCs essentially. Some open source social networking components already exist out there. All we should need is a few bits of sticky tape and glue to put them all together now, surely?

Isn’t it time to tell these big companies where to go and reclaim the net for ourselves?

The future of music creation

When I was a student, I saw people around me that could play musical instruments and since I couldn’t, I felt a bit inadequate, so I went out and bought a £13 guitar and taught myself to play. Later, I bought a keyboard and learned to play that too. I’ve never been much good at either, and can’t read music, but  if I know a tune, I can usually play it by ear and sometimes I compose, though I never record any of my compositions. Music is highly rewarding, whether listening or creating. I play well enough for my enjoyment and there are plenty of others who can play far better to entertain audiences.

Like almost everyone, most of the music I listen to is created by others and today, you can access music by a wide range of means. It does seem to me though that the music industry is stuck in the 20th century. Even concerts seem primitive compared to what is possible. So have streaming and download services. For some reason, new technology seems mostly to have escaped its attention, apart from a few geeks. There are a few innovative musicians and bands out there but they represent a tiny fraction of the music industry. Mainstream music is decades out of date.

Starting with the instruments themselves, even electronic instruments produce sound that appears to come from a single location. An electronic violin or guitar is just an electronic version of a violin or guitar, the sound all appears to come from a single point all the way through. It doesn’t  throw sound all over the place or use a wide range of dynamic effects to embrace the audience in surround sound effects. Why not? Why can’t a musician or a technician make the music meander around the listener, creating additional emotional content by getting up close, whispering right into an ear, like a violinist picking out an individual woman in a bar and serenading her? High quality surround sound systems have been in home cinemas for yonks. They are certainly easy to arrange in a high budget concert. Audio shouldn’t stop with stereo. It is surprising just how little use current music makes of existing surround sound capability. It is as if they think everyone only ever listens on headphones.

Of course, there is no rule that electronic instruments have to be just electronic derivatives of traditional ones, and to be fair, many sounds and effects on keyboards and electric guitars do go a lot further than just emulating traditional variants. But there still seems to be very little innovation in new kinds of instrument to explore dynamic audio effects, especially any that make full use of the space around the musician and audience. With the gesture recognition already available even on an Xbox or PS3, surely we should have a much more imaginative range of potential instruments, where you can make precise gestures, wave or throw your arms, squeeze your hands, make an emotional facial expression or delicately pinch, bend or slide fingers to create effects. Even multi-touch on phones or pads should have made a far bigger impact by now.

(As an aside, ever since I was a child, I have thought that there must be a visual equivalent to music. I don’t know what it is, and probably never will, but surely, there must be visual patterns or effects that can generate an equivalent emotional response to music. I feel sure that one day someone will discover how to generate them and the field will develop.)

The human body is a good instrument itself. Most people can sing to a point or at least hum or whistle a tune even if they can’t play an instrument. A musical instrument is really just an unnecessary interface between your brain, which knows what sound you want to make, and an audio production mechanism. Up until the late 20th century, the instrument made the sound, today, outside of a live concert at least,  it is very usually a computer with a digital to analog converter and a speaker attached. Links between computers and people are far better now though, so we can bypass the hard-to-learn instrument bit. With thought recognition, nerve monitoring, humming, whistling, gesture and expression recognition and so on, there is a very rich output from the body that can potentially be used far more intuitively and directly to generate the sound. You shouldn’t have to learn how to play an instrument in the 21st century. The sound creation process should interface almost directly to your brain as intuitively as your body does. If you can hum it, you can play it. Or should be able to, if the industry was keeping up.

Going a bit further, most of us have some idea what sort of music or effect we want to create, but don’t know quite enough about music to have the experience or skill to know quite what. A skilled composer may be able to write something down right away to achieve a musical effect that the rest of us would struggle to imagine. So, add some AI. Most music is based on fairly straightforward mathematical principles, even symphonies are mostly combinations of effects and sequences that fit well within AI-friendly guidelines. We use calculators to do calculations, so use AI to help compose music. Any of us should be able to compose great music with tools we should be able to build now. It shouldn’t be the future, it should be the present.

Let’s look at music distribution. When we buy a music track or stream it, why do we still only get the audio? Why isn’t the music video included by default? Sure, you can watch on YouTube but then you generally get low quality audio and video. Why isn’t purchased music delivered at the highest quality with full HD 3D video included, or videos if the band has made a few, with all the latest ones included as they emerge? If a video is available for music video channels, it surely should be available to those who have bought the music. That it isn’t reflects the contempt that the music industry generally shows to its customers. It treats us as a bunch of thieves who must only ever be given the least possible access for the greatest possible outlay, to make up for all the times we must of course be stealing off them. That attitude has to change if the industry is to achieve its potential. 

Augmented reality is emerging now. It already offers some potential to add overlays at concerts but in a few years, when video visors are commonplace, we should expect to see band members playing up in the air, flying around the audience, virtual band members, cartoon and fantasy creations all over the place doping all sorts of things, visual special effects overlaying the sound effects. Concerts will be a spectacular opportunity to blend the best of visual, audio, dance, storytelling, games and musical arts together. Concerts could be much more exciting, if they use the technology potential. Will they? I guess we’ll have to wait and see. Much of this could be done already, but only a little is.

Now lets consider the emotional connection between a musician and the listener. We are all very aware of the intense (though unilateral) relationship teens can often build with their pop idols. They may follow them on Twitter and other social nets as well as listening to their music and buying their posters. Augmented reality will let them go much further still. They could have their idol with them pretty much all the time, virtually present in their field of view, maybe even walking hand in hand, maybe even kissing them. The potential spectrum extends from distant listening to intimate cuddles. Bearing in mind especially the ages of many fans, how far should we allow this to go and how could it be policed?

Clothing adds potential to the emotional content during listening too. Headphones are fine for the information part of audio, but the lack of stomach-throbbing sound limits the depth of the experience. Music is more than information. Some music is only half there if it isn’t at the right volume. I know from personal experience that not everyone seems to understand this, but turning the volume down (or indeed up) sometimes destroys the emotional content. Sometimes you have to feel the music, sometimes let it fully conquer your senses. Already, people are experimenting with clothes that can house electronics, some that flash on and off in synch with the music, and some that will be able to contract and expand their fibres under electronic control. You will be able to buy clothes that give you the same vibration you would otherwise get from the sub-woofer or the rock concert.

Further down the line, we will be able to connect IT directly into the nervous system. Active skin is not far away. Inducing voltages and current in nerves via tiny implants or onplants on patches of skin will allow computers to generate sensations directly.

This augmented reality and a link to the nervous system gives another whole dimension to telepresence. Band members at a concert will be able to play right in front of audience members, shake them, cuddle them. The emotional connection could be a lot better.

Picking up electrical clues from the skin allows automated music selection according to the wearers emotional state. Even properties like skin conductivity can give clues about emotional state. Depending on your stress level for example, music could be played that soothes you, or if you feel calm, maybe more stimulating tracks could be played. Playlists would thus adapt to how you feel.

Finally, music is a social thing too. It brings people together in shared experiences. This is especially true for the musicians, but audience members often feel some shared experience too. Atmosphere. Social networking already sees some people sharing what music they are listening too (I don’t want to share my tastes but I recognise that some people do, and that’s fine). Where shared musical taste is important to a social group, it could be enhanced by providing tools to enable shared composition. AI can already write music in particular styles – you can feed Mozart of Beethoven into some music generators and they will produce music that sounds like it had been composed by that person, they can compose that as fast as it comes out of the speakers. It could take style preferences from a small group of people and produce music that fits across those styles. The result is a sort of tribal music, representative of the tribe that generated it. In this way, music could become even more of a social tool in the future than it already is.

Thinking of starting a blog but not sure if it’s worth it? It is.

Yes. Blogging is easy and fun and definitely worth it.

I started my wordpress blog  just over three years ago. I have put out 160 posts and had 60,000 readers, 375 per post. Pathetic if you compare to the top blogs, but comparing yourself to others is the fast way to misery, so don’t. I look at the world on my terms, with my limits and my ability, not that of others. Some do better, some worse, so what? I’m me, not them.

In influence terms, with my readership level, it is probably equivalent to doing a talk on that topic to a conference of 375 people, (which is a big part of my business). But blogging is a lot easier, much faster if you include prep and travel time, and less stressful.

Blogging is unpaid work, but it costs in in other ways. It helps me to think an idea through, and to refresh and update old ideas. Occasionally, comments by readers point out errors and omissions too. It therefore helps make my other consultancy and talks fresh and weed out errors in my thinking, keeping customers happy. Happy customers generate more happy customers. So although it is unpaid directly, it probably significantly generates and maintains revenue indirectly.

And of course it is a sort of advertising.

There are numerous other paybacks that are hard to quantify but which certainly add justification. It’s a way of recording an idea so you can point to it later and say “I told you so” or “I said that first”. A way of teasing friends or colleagues, generating responses and discussion or occasionally just having a good rant. It can be entertainment, education or thought stimulation for readers, or maybe just a piece that readers can empathise with and share an experience.

But mostly, blogging is about being part of the bigger community, being part of a huge discussion panel, social networking, making some input and feeling satisfaction if you occasionally write something you can be proud of.

If you write a blog, none of this is news to you. If you don’t, I’d encourage you to have a go. It is easy to get started, especially on wordpress, and free, unless you want to pay for deluxe facilities. Just go to the wordpress.com page, click a few obvious buttons to create a free account, fill in some simple data and you’re flying. Half an hour to your first post. There are loads of page designs to pick from that you can personalise, most are free. You can buy premium upgrades of course, but they are entirely optional.

Go on. You know you have something to say or share that other people will be interested in.

Future food production

Food production is adapting to increased environmental awareness, but we will see far more change over coming years.

There is a lot of innovation right now in food production. Hydroponics is growing, as are vertical farms, home growing and focus on local production that is encouraging cottage industry specialists. There are some nice synergies. Greenhouses can make good use of waste heat from power stations and also benefit from the CO2 given off if they burn fossil fuels, which of course is locked up when the plants convert it to biomass. This effectively increases the energy efficiency of the power station by adding an extra layer of chemical energy recovery after thermal. There are many articles already out there about hydroponics etc so I don’t need to repeat them here. That’s what Google is for.

The web makes it easy for producers of all kinds to have a closer relationship with customers, so it is now possible to organise local marketing and distribution around social networking, with groups of customers even commissioning crops grown according to specific regimes. GPS-enabled tractors can treat each square metre of a field effectively as a different managed allotment. With people more interested in exactly how their food is produced, this is sure to find a healthy market as the economy recovers.

At higher levels, financial strain during the lengthy recession is forcing many people to commercialise their hobbies, such as baking or catering, creating a growing home-made sector. This will even extend into arts ad crafts thanks to new technology such as 3D printing, which will make its way into the kitchen any time soon.  So the emerging pattern is one of rapidly increasing diversity in food production, from crop growing to processed foods manufacture. This creates opportunities for increased competition in the food space, but also presents risks to existing manufacturers. As ever with any kind of turbulence, the winners and losers will be decided by how willing and able companies are to adapt.

Vertical farms on the walls of tall buildings add agricultural space to cities and as well as growing food, also helps air quality. The food would be of dubious taste and value if air were polluted as badly as it used to be, but with emissions now, it is probably OK. A variety of mechanisms have been suggests for vertical farms. Some look more feasible than others, but the general idea seems workable, and experimentation and development will sort out which solutions work best. One thing that is easy to forget though is that the amount of sunlight incident on a given land area doesn’t depend on the building architecture raised on it, and using a wall gives a lower energy density than a field or a roof because the same total light is spread over a larger area. Interior farms of course need artificial light, but if that is produced via nuclear energy, then it might still work out well environmentally.

Home finishing is a good prospect too. Many people are already used to part bake products, where they buy a product that is already mostly prepared and just needs finishing off in the oven to make one with all the benefits of freshly made cuisine. Microwave and other ready-meals are even more familiar. 3D printing technology may even have a future role, making edible frills and accessories to brighten up appearance.

Home finishing could be done as a small local business too. Large manufacturers could gain local presence for fresh produce by using local finishers, and these could be ordinary households or based in small offices or shops, making a new cottage industry. They could also work well with local manufacturing and distribution companies. Social networks could provide most of the platform for these local business clouds but they could also be based on systems run by large companies.

This social potential is useful if people rebel against the multinationals at some point. With frequent problem areas like tax avoidance, misleading information, exploitation and other issues that are setting people against them, having a fall-back position increases leverage by showing that communities are not powerless.

Current biotechnology research into lab-grown meat might eventually flourish into a large meat manufacturing industry. It is hard to tell yet how successful it might be in creating cost effective, healthy and palatable solutions. Vegetarian meats would presumably see a good market since many vegetarians avoid meat mainly because of the ways animals are reared and treated, and many meat eaters also have some reservations and would be willing to switch. Lab-grown meat would be little different from a yoghurt in terms of its cruelty implications. Although the principle has been proven, much work is need to replicate textures and taste well at a reasonable cost.

Lab-grown meat could be more energy efficient than that produced by animals, and would liberate farmland for crops. Together with increasing productivity in crop production anyway, some expect that we will be able to start returning land to nature in the second half of this century because we will make plenty of food for everyone with less land.

Biotech will create new varieties of crops, some with extra vitamin content or other health benefits, lower fat animals and enable varieties that are adapted to a wider range of climates, thereby increasing the amount of land that could be used for agriculture.

Home printer technology also is being hyped for food production, or rather assembly is probably a more accurate description, since nobody is yet suggesting its use for making the raw materials such as proteins and carbohydrates.  Its is effectively the next level up in abstraction from the lab grown products. Even chocolate could be made using printers. Food printers could only ever be a niche market, but could sit alongside other home gadgets such as microwaves and mixers. Cakes, confectionery,  frills and accessories would be the probable markets. It would especially appeal to the kinds of people who make elaborate cake decorations and could extend creative food design to a much broader group.

Food technology will continue to other areas too, making more appealing products from even wider range of raw materials. GM bacteria or algae could compete well with land grown crops. Algae may be grown at sea as part of carbon reduction schemes anyway, and could be used for either biofuel or as a component for food production. Of course, many foods contain lots of ingredients, so even if it isn’t suitable as a main platform, such humble starting points may be a used as fillers or other additives.

Of course, fish farming is bound to increase too. Many fish species are threatened today and near extinction of a key species does eventually force governments to listen and act. Although regulation so far has at best been poor, it can only improve and perhaps we may soon have a global set of treaties that ensure sustainable fishing and farming. There will also be a place for GM fish that maybe grow faster or breed faster. Some countries will be more willing to accept GM than others but when the choice is high prices v GM, GM will win out.

Things that don’t work but could

Continue reading

The future of gender

My writing on the future of gender now forms a section of my new book You Tomorrow, Second Edition, on the future of humanity, gender, lifestyle and our surroundings. Available from Amazon as paper and ebook.

or

http://www.amazon.co.uk/You-Tomorrow-humanity-belongings-surroundings/dp/1491278269

 

Connecting up? let’s shake on that. Guest post by Chris Moseley

“Let’s connect up!” A former American associate of mine used that phrase all the time and nice lady that she is, those words always had an empty, rather dread ring to them. “Connecting up” invariably meant participation in a teleconference where, blind to each other’s facial expressions, attire – hairstyles! – the contributors to the so-called ‘conference’ were left anxiously trying to assemble layers of meaning and depth from each other’s lifeless pleonasms. The communications experience was never much better when we actually saw each other; teleconferencing offered its own unique brand of awfulness, which unvaryingly got in the way of good discussion. Of course there is nothing unusual about this type of experience – it’s common in fact, which makes it all the more dreadful. With all the technology that has come about to help us ‘connect’, much faster and with less effort than ever before, we have become ever more detached from real, flesh and blood relationships. Digital communications simply does not cut it when it comes to developing a relationship. Of course we all know the mantra, the arguments for communications technology. It’s an important tool that helps us to make plans more efficiently, and to stay in touch with friends and loved ones. It is a portal to our business world – to making money! It has even proved to be critically important to the cause of liberty and democracy, witness the events that led to the Arab Spring. And yet I feel that we’re all missing out terribly by confining ourselves to studying our smartphones instead of reading the faces of the people around us, or by choosing to text a few words to a colleague in the office via Skype when he/she is only a few feet away (oh, yes, this is really happening more and more now). I suppose we must keep faith and hope for common sense to lead us back to a sensible blend of technology and good old-fashioned human contact. Or perhaps those clever fellows at BT, Ma Bell, Deutsche Telecom or Telstra will find a viable substitute via interactive holographic technology, or some form of advanced avatar communications. Mmm, I believe that I would still rather shake someone’s hand and, err, smile.

Chris Moseley, 17 Mile Studios, Brisbane, Australia

www.17milestudios.com.au

To each according to their effort

This entry now forms a chapter in my book Total Sustainability, available from Amazon in paper or ebook form.

What is a climate scientist? Indeed, are there any?

We hear the term frequently, but what qualifies some people and not others to be classed as climate scientists?  You might think it is just someone who studies things that affect the climate. But very many people do that, not just those who call themselves climate scientists. The term actually seems to refer solely to a group who have commandeered the term for themselves and share a particular viewpoint, with partly overlapping skills in a subset of the relevant disciplines. In recent times,it seems that to be an official ‘climate scientist’ you must believe that the main thing that counts is human interference and in particular, CO2. All other factors must be processed from this particular bias.

To me, the climate looks like it is affected by a great many influences. Climate models produced by ‘climate scientists’ have been extremely poor at predicting changes so far, and one reason for this is that they exclude many of the relevant factors.

I am struggling to think of any scientific discipline that doesn’t have something to say about some influence on climate. Many branches of chemistry and physics are important in understanding how the atmosphere works, and the oceans, and glaciers, and soil. We have some understanding of some natural cycles, but far from all, and far from complete. We need biologists and chemists and physicists to tell us about soil, and forests, and ocean life, and how species and entire ecosystems react and adapt to changing circumstances, with migrations or adaptation or evolution for example. We need to understand how draining bogs or chopping trees to make room for biofuels affects the climate. How using bio-waste for fuel instead of ploughing it into the ground affects soil structure, plant growth, and carbon interchange. We need to understand how cosmic rays interact with the earth’s magnetic field, how this is affected by solar activity, how sunspots form, and even gravitational interactions with the planets that affect solar cycles. We need to understand glacial melting, how glaciers move differently as temperature changes, how black carbon from diesel engines affects their heat absorption, how clouds form, how they act to warm or cool the earth according to circumstances. We need to understand ocean cycles much better, as well as gas and heat interchange between layers, how this is affected by weather and so on. I could go on, endlessly. We need to understand the many different ways we could make energy in the future, the many options for capture and containment of emissions or pollutants, or positive effects some might have on plant growth and animal food chains.

But it doesn’t stop with science, not be a long way. We also need people skilled in anthropology and demography and sociology and human psychology, who understand how people react when faced with choices of lifestyle when presented in many different ways with different spins, or faced with intimidation or eviction because of environmental policies.  And how groups or tribes or countries will interact and distribute burdens and costs and rewards, or fight, or flee. And religious leaders who understand well the impacts of religious pressures on people’s attitudes and behaviours, even if they don’t subscribe to any organised religion. Clearly environmental behaviour has a strong religious motivation for many people, even if that is just as a crude religion substitute.

We even need people who understand animal psychology, how small mammals react to wind turbine flicker for example, and how this affects the food chain, ecosystem balance and eventual interchange with the atmosphere and the rest of the environment.

And politicians, they understand how to influence people, and marketers, and estate agents. They can help predict behaviours and adaptation and how entire countries may or will interact according to changes in climate, real or imagined.

And we need economists to look at the many alternatives and compare costs and benefits, preferably without ideological and political bias. We need to compare strategies for adaptation and mitigation and avoidance. Honestly and objectively. And we need ethicists to help evaluate the same from human perspectives.

And we need loads of mathematicians, especially statisticians. Climate science is very complicated, and a lot of measurements and trend analyses need in-depth statistical skills, apparently lacking in official climate science, as evidenced by the infamous hockey stick graph. But we also need some to model things like traffic flows so we can predict emissions from different policies.

And we need lots of engineers too, to assess likely costs and timescales for development of alternatives for energy, transport, entertainment and business IT. We need a lot of engineers!

And don’t forget architects, who influence energy balance via choices of shapes, materials and colour schemes as well as how buildings maintain a pleasant environment for the inhabitants.

Ah yes, and futurists. Many futurists are systems thinkers with an understanding of how things link together and how they may develop. You need a few of them too.

I have probably forgotten lots of others. The point is that there are very many factors that need to be included. No-one, and I mean no-one, can possibly have a good grasp of all of them. You can know a bit about a lot of things or a lot about a few things, but you can’t know a lot about everything. I would say that there are no people at all who know about all the things that affect climate in any depth, and therefore no group deserves a monopoly on that title.

So, if you only look in any depth at a few interaction in the oceans and atmosphere and ignore many of the rest of the factors affecting climate, as ‘climate scientists’ seem to, it is hard to see a good reason to continue to hold the title any more than anyone with another label like astrophysicist, or politician. ‘Climate scientists’ as we currently classify them, know a bit about some things that affect climate. So do many other groups. Having skills in a few of the relevant areas doesn’t give any right to dismiss others with skills in a different few. And if they consistently get it wrong, as they do, then there is even less reason to trust their particular viewpoints. And that’s before we even start considering whether they are even honest about the stuff they do talk about. And as Donna Lamframboise has pointed out recently, they don’t deserve to be trusted.

http://thegwpf.org/best-of-blogs/5864-donna-lamframboise-no-reasonable-person-should-trust-climate-scientists.html

Blocking Pirate Bay makes little sense

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/news/9236667/Pirate-Bay-must-be-blocked-High-Court-tells-ISPs.html Justice Arnold ruled that ISPs must block their customers from accessing Pirate Bay. Regardless of the morality or legality of Pirate Bay, forcing ISPs to block access to it will cause them inconvenience and costs, but won’t fix the core problem of copyright materials being exchanged without permission from the owners.

I have never looked at the Pirate Bay site, but I am aware of what it offers. It doesn’t host material, but allows its users to download from each other. By blocking access to the Bay, the judge blocks another one of billions of ways to exchange data. Many others exist and it is very easy to set up new ones, so trying to deal with them one by one seems rather pointless. Pirate Bay’s users will simply use alternatives. If they were to block all current file sharing sites, others would spring up to replace them, and if need be, with technological variations that set them outside of any new legislation. At best judges could play a poor catch-up game in an eternal war between global creativity and the law. Because that is what this is.

Pirate Bay can only be blocked because it is possible to identify it and put it in court. It is possible to write software that doesn’t need a central site, or indeed any legally identifiable substance. It could for example be open-source software written and maintained by evolving adaptive AI, hidden behind anonymity, distributed algorithms and encryption walls, roaming freely among web servers and PCs, never stopping anywhere. It could be untraceable. It could use combinations of mobile or fixed phone nets, the internet, direct gadget-gadget comms and even use codes on other platforms such as newspapers. Such a system would be dangerous to build from a number of perspectives, but may be forced by actions to close alternatives. If people feel angered by arrogance and greed, they may be pushed down this development road. The only way to fully stop such a system would be to stop communication.

The simple fact is that technology that we depend on for most aspects of our lives also makes it possible to swap files, and to do so secretly as needed. We could switch it off, but our economy and society would collapse. To pretend otherwise is folly. Companies that feel abused should recognise that the world has moved on and they need to adapt their businesses to survive in the world today, not ask everyone to move back to the world of yesterday so that they can cope. Because we can’t and shouldn’t even waste time trying to. My copyright material gets stolen frequently. So what? I just write more. That model works fine for me. It ain’t broke, and trying to fix it without understanding how stuff works won’t protect anyone and will only make it worse for all of us.