Sunday 31 August 2014

From landscape to landmark ; changing workers, robots in charge & messages in messenger

The last 5 to 6 years of my life have involved a lot of travel. Not just the 'hitting the motorway/highway in my car' variety, which is par for the course these days for a lot of people, but more of the trans-global sort.

I mention this as even a decade ago, travelling on planes was still considered more of a holiday based scenario or more for those who were the mid to top level 'executive' type. In effect, theese are the ones with different offices in different countries, a suitcase always near the door, passport more or less at hand, with the apparel reflecting this 'got to go now!' attitude and mindset. But something somewhere has changed during the last decade. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, other than to think that the cost of flights has come down with internet based competition, so the anicilliary industries have followed suit..or have they?

The cost of travel isn't the only reason, and I think this article here sheds a lot of light on what is going on :-

5 Ways the Workforce Will Change in 5 Years

Now this is obviously more centred towards a particular demographic, namely the millenials, as the article states. It also generally covers the developed countries and I'd say the bigger cities too, where mobility per se is far greater, due to the whole 'pace of life' effect; you end up moving jobs, and residences a lot more than in more provincial towns. 

Also, free time is at a premium, so everything seems to be happening in a  much faster timeframe. But I'd say this concept covers a much wider spread, cause we're all part of the bigger urbanised socio-economic ecosystem. One thing really does lead to another nowadays, much more than in the predominantly analog world of old.

From my own perspective of being self employed and  born in the 1970's, I didn't think Id be working for one employer all my life. Maybe I'm rarer in that respect, in that I'd be happily ensconced with a variety of jobs and skillsets, so by luck and my own restless design, I chose to do other things cause I felt I could give them  my best ( or any) shot. I'd be less willing to juggle that many plates now, but I'm fine with the long distance travelling aspect being a part of the workflow on an ad-hoc basis, as I'd already done it prior to this sort of thing now becoming the norm.

I will say you have to take a bit more care of your physical health as it's easy to fall into bad dietary habits and succumb to travel based burnout over a period of time, but other than that, It's clearly the way forward for many people. Obviously there always has to be a specialised, localised workforce, but the next article is a semi-reiteration of a post from last week, where I referenced the now rapidly-going-viral video of the workforce being eventually replaced by automation. This is more about integrating the two :-

Study: Humans Are Happier When We Have Robot Overlords

Right now, I'm not so sure about that being governed completely by robots in a work environment is necessarily a great idea for a lot of human action/reactions that defy logic as working methods and even rest/play.  I'm also surprised that the humans performed better when the robot had full governance/ autonomy over scheduling conditions.

However, my mild cynicism can be explained by the fact that the environment and it's incumbents were under 'test conditions', so im assuming a level of awareness by the human contingent meant they would be operating under a level of skew or pre-emptive awareness of the test conditions. Besides which, conditional variances and larger numbers of incumbent variables during testing  give testing a far greater level of authenticity in my opinion, as the results can be more easily aggregated to better accuracy to deliver a truer relfection of a 'what if' scenario.

In effect, this MIT study based article is a worthy report on the man/machine interactivity development. But as I said at the start, I think we still have a very long way to go before a machine can get anywhere close to the millions, if not billions of combinations/permutations that the human mind, body and spirit can conjure up in order to get things done, be it for work or play.

Speaking of playing around, it seems a lot of people are getting tired of playing around with facebook's new method of chat, as utilised on the smartphone platform : -

Facebook Really Wants You To Stop Being Pissed About Messenger

I've had facebook messenger on my phone for months and after the second time I used it ( where people I no longer had any connection to, attempted conversations with me..strange), I thought it was just a mish-mash of bloatware. I couldn't get my head around why they needed to seperate it from facebook itself, other than to perhaps allow more throughput for the main app useage itself, as the chat users were possibly slowing the whole structure down, due to increased numbers.

In any event, I'm not much of a Facebook user these days, which could be a phase ( I've discussed it here) I'm going through, so it's not affecting me on a general basis either way. All I can say is that from a design point of view, I think the whole Facebook experience has started to become a bit too complicated in some ways, and that if I was to think of signing up for an account today, I'd think twice due to the length of creating a profile.

Still, I'm hopeful that either there'll be an offshoot or a completely new platform, as I suspect most "on the go" types ( including myself), prefer a more streamlined experience where you're not going to be caught up in endless debating and so on coupled with the now 'detached-yet-joined' experience of messenger, which twitter in particularly is great for, cause the 140 character limit really pushes you to be brief and to the point. That in itself, is an artform.

And on that creative note, I'm off to check out a concert with multiple performances from different genres, genders and backgrounds. A real life melting pot of creative goodness.

Sunday 24 August 2014

Wrong, right.. alright? ; shake that phone, it's not a phone & don't do it.

'it's so bad it's good!'

When was the last time you heard that one?

I used to be heavily into things that fell into that camp when I was in my 20's. Mostly films (bollywood and hollywood) and obscure (and well known) 1970's tv show box sets grabbed on the cheap from car boot sales and the internet . It's almost like setting yourself up for disappointment, but with a twist; you're never trully disappointed because you already have an inkling in advance as to how crap the whole thing really is.

Hindisight mixed in with the ravages of time and socio-cultural and technological developments eventually do this to everything. Think about your first web based experience using a mobile phone. Come to think of it, think about your first ever smartphone and the apps you got with it. Did you whince? Did you laugh? I bet it was a mixture of both.

And yet the technology has moved so rapidly that in just seven years we've gone from using one app at a time, to multiple apps running to allow you to use all the social media and other tech by just switching back and forth. On my phone, there's even multiple apps running concurrently so you can watch a youtube video and surf the net at the same time. Magic, is the word.

This leads me onto this link, which brings us back to the start of the article :-

This is the worst app in the world

Now that's a bold claim. Especially when I think of some of the games based apps I've downloaded over the years that have had shockingly bad playability and controls. In any event, with this app/game you just have to shake the phone and..that's it. Well, there's more, but have a read of the link. Unreal is the word.

Speaking of which :-

The noPhone, Because Smartphone Separation Anxiety Is Real

I literally laughed out loud when I saw this and also clicked on the link in the article to check the website out. If anyone out there is really so in need of what can amount to be a comforting device akin to a baby's dummy or soother, then you have my sympathies. This has to be a well executed parody, for sure.

And finally, a more serious tone is adopted in this piece about..well, why not have a look-see :-

Don't do what you love.

All I will say, is don't take the title at complete face value  .The author Rachel Nabors, is an award winning cartoonist turned web developer. I could say more, but I think there's a lot of fun and learning to be had in reading it through, so check it out.
Speaking of which, I'm off out to catch up with friends..

..And I've just had a text message from one of them, saying that two of them were wrong in saying what  they thought was right, about the arguement that was going on the other night, in which..

Somehow, I know it's all going to be alright.

Wednesday 20 August 2014

..And it's from the old and to the new; Automation, Aphex twin & looking smart

Im having my boiler replaced this week. Or rather, im having a pair of  old smaller boilers, replaced with a newer one. Now this newer boiler has a more efficient system, that will save on the energy consumption and deliver the water and heating at a..

Okay, as much as a fan of tech as I am, I didn't listen to every word the engineer had to say during the 'pitch period' to grab all the minutae of the technical specification data . I did, however, listen to enough to help in making my decision to buy.

Having done physics and maths all the way from GCSE, though to my Degree, and even beyond when I think of how quickly I managed to assimilate all the information learned when using analog synthesizers both old and new in the studio, I just tend to listen to the cliffnotes for any unique or new and improved 'gizmo-ing' ( see my article on the right hand side, or just click here for further details on what that is), that may be of benefit.

Ultimately, a team of fitters is going around the house, draining the system down, checking the loft space tanks, moving the new boiler and tank in and so on. As far as I know, they're all human, which I've based on the brief chunks of interaction I've had with all of them, and they've all got their own sense of self ( and a sense of humour).  I mention this in prelude to the following article that caught my eyes and ears :-

Scary Smart Video Predicts Automation Will Make Human Work Obsolete

Again, I touched on this in another article I wrote a few years ago which sadly I can't locate ( the website was taken over by another party, the same may have happened with the printed version and I don't have the digital draft at hand right now..honestly), and if you watch the video, which i hope you do, it's at about the halfway mark that things start to get very interesting.

Just imagine the reality of the concept of a machine teaching another machine how to be better at something than the human who programmed the data into the machine(s) in the first place. Now imagine that being compounded at a rate beyond our natural comprehension. At some point very soon on in, the human has not only been replaced, but superceeded in terms of efficiency and capability.

We're not just talking about menial 'factory robot' style jobs, but even the writing of reports, articles, and even more subjective and emotive productivity, such as music, books, poetry and painting.That's potentially a lot of people being replaced.

Am I scared about all this? Not anymore. As I wrote in my (now lost) article, there will always be a need for human rationale at some sphere, because manufacturing emotions and the full spectrum of them, with the maelstrom of different reactions that can generate, isn't going to be easy.

More importantly, the warmth or what I call  ' the feelings aspect' of contact, no matter how brief ( for example a waiter, a concierge, a manager, a hairstylist, and so on, who just 'get you' so to speak), cannot be reproduced with cold, hard machinery. Even the staunchest technophile will have to strain to find a robot who exudes charm, which is an amalgam of more than the sum of it's parts. In human beings it's those sum of our parts which encompasses so many character traits, including our physiognomies, gesticulations, speech inflexions and slight imperfections here and there, that ultimately give us our character.

So in effect, there will always be a need for human contact and interaction even in the workplace, otherwise the faint whiff of sterility that even the best machine can generate at an interaction level, will create a cold and semi-soulless world. Besides which, if there is a return to a more natural way of doing things, in part and not necessarily as a knee-jerk reaction, as the article alludes to, then that's a good thing too. I for one am not partial to 'hugging a robot', metaphorically speaking, in nearly every transaction and interaction I participate in.

On a lighter note ( all puns intended), someone else who has participated in his own programming forays into the world of creativity and productivity is perhaps teasing us with a new album worth of material he may or may not want to release soon :-

Aphex Twin Is Teasing His New Album on the Deep Web

Richard D James (a.k.a the aphex twin) is a man who really is the living embodiment of 'my way' in the best way imaginable. For the unitiated, just like Kraftwerk before him, he has released his own genre of music, which sounded like nothing else before it, for years on end. He's also very selective about press and p.r., which amounts to next to nothing for long periods of time, followed by random bits of activity, akin to what's mentioned in the article.

But the twist is that he goes under a lot of aliases, too...or does he? Just like Kraftwerk, he's either by luck or by design ( I suspect both), weaved a level of mystique that makes the music trully matter more than any image or style bestowed upon him.

In effect, he's a very clever guy who has made good and done good on his work, by always being a little bit ahead of everyone else and producing quality work with a sense of juxtaposition in pieces that is clearly his own. It's a recognisably distinctive sonic palette, even when he tackles tradtional genres per se ( such as techno on the ANALORD series of releases) and he also takes some wild sonic risks from time to time. In any event, If an album is coming out soon, I can't wait to buy a copy.

Speaking of smartness, I wonder where any of us would rank ourselves according to the findings in this final article :-

How to Look Smart

I wont' go into the finer details here as :-

a) I'm hungry


 b) I think it's time I had a look-see at what the boiler fitting team are doing, in terms of progress on the job.

And on that note I'm off, because there's another detail I haven't attended to recently. The voicemail on my mobile/ cell phone isn't working properly.

So much for automation. Just like human beings, it's not perfected yet.  Unlike machines however, our flaws give us character.

Monday 18 August 2014

Omelettes & Sandwiches; I don't know, Flying Burrito and Iced water buckets

I don't know how to cook. Not properly. You know what I mean by that, don't you? It goes without saying that I can make a mean omelette, and make great sandwiches out of all kinds of 'hey, why not put that in?' style, slightly mismatched fillings ( I hesitate to call them ingredients cause even a toasted sandwich is still a sandwich), as well as the more normal/regular cheese and pickle, and so on. I can even just about make some sort of spaghetti dish by boiling up some pasta, taking some pasta sauce and using a similar method to the sandwich get gist by now.

My father on the other hand, is a masterchef by comparison. He relishes and thrives on making dishes from scratch using what we now call 'raw ingredients'. He's a pescetarian ( look it up, if you don't know what that means), but most of his cooking is vegetarian. He was an engineer by trade for years and then set up his own business..and the rest of that is for another time.

Would I love to be able to cook like that? I don't know. I enjoy eating, but im not sure about spending large amounts of time preparing food. It's not where my passion and skill sets lie. Maybe when I'm older, i'll feel differently and get stuck into the art.

The point im trying to make here, is that in an age where we're constantly being told by everyone to promote our strengths, is it always a bad idea to admit to not knowing something? :-

How "I don't know" can make you an authority in your industry

Now cause this is a lengthy but valuable read, im going to end today's

Not really.

In short, if you're honest about not knowing something, it can free you up to being open and more receptive about what you do know, thereby pushing your energies and drive in that direction.Furthermore, you can always work at finding out more about what it is that you don't know, when you need to know it. Think about it.

On the subject of food. :-

Free Startup Idea: BurritoCannon

I'm fortunate that I've spent enough time in the last decade in America, to eat and enjoy the humble Burrito on a number of occasions. As a consequence, I can (just about) see the merit of this idea. I can also see my tongue going towards the inside of my cheek, which is what I'm thinking the author was doing as well.

But a great food item like the burrito can make you thirsty. So it's natural you'd want a drink of water. With ice. How about a bucket of iced water, just in case? :-

Bill Gates And Tim Cook Dump Ice On Their Heads For ALS Awareness

My own choice between these two 'cooling off' demonstrations, leans towards Bill Gates', simply for the level of engineering executed in the name of fullfilling the challenge. Superbly done.

On a valuable and important note, ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), is a fatal neurodegenerative disease that attacks the brain and spinal cord. There are links in the article itself for further awareness and also a page to make donations ( and yes, I have donated).

And on that note, it's time for me to cool off. With an ice-cream.

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Thursday 14 August 2014

Juicy oranges & the primal drive; music, code cartoons and stinky landfills

During the summer I always tend to go for the juiciest fruit i can get my hands on. That's not a cleverly veiled euphemism, but an actual reflection of what I buy in the supermarket, in the name of keeping healthy whilst enjoying great tasting food.

Oranges are always near the top of my list as there's something very primal about biting into them and enjoying the juice and the fruit. I tend to keep them in the fridge and then leave them out first thing in the morning on the day im going to eat them. I'd like to say there's some sort of scientific reason behind this, such as I'm letting the natural ripening process carry on for a little while longer, but its more out of habit and the mindset that now i've left them out, I better eat them, or someone else will.

Keeping with the primordial theme, the first of the three articles that caught my eye recently, is all about using music to feel good in a more holistic sense :-

Cleveland Heights man uses music to promote wellbeing in the community

Clearly a man with an ear to the ground ( pun intended), Dr. Damir Janigro from Cleveland Ohio, is conducting research into how music can provide a theraputic effect for patients in hospital. What stuck out for me, was that he's come from a very musical family and although not a musician himself, by osmosis he has pursued this as part of his work as a doctor, in aid of treating patients. This in itself may not be considered groundbreaking or unusual as there are potentially many of us, myself included, who would happily support the arguement that music is the elixir of life, and is as essential as food and water to our wellbeing and connected mental and emotional states.

But what is unusual, is that he also started a foundation named after his father Antonio (he was a world reknowned cellist), several years ago, just to promote the concept of music and wellbeing in the community, per se. His work as a doctor, is perhaps aiding a part of his natural quest to pursue this passion to a scientific, quantitative and qualitative set of results. It's akin to finding a way to get closer to bringing the left and right brain into harmony..literally.

As a musician myself, it's always encouraging to hear feedback on what kind of emotive reaction people get from hearing the finished results. In effect, music isn't something that's easily compartmentalised into rhetorical minutae, irrespective ironically of wether there is lyrical content.  That's why music reviewers and the concept of reviewing, is an artform in itself, because you can enter into what i call the ' how long is a piece of string?' scenario; i.e. how technical or not do you make the critique, where do your tastes and their boundaries lie to make an informed but rational point, and so on.

Th assimilation of artistic values and the reiteration of them, is a complex thing to do for the artist too, as the second article illustrates :-

The Guy Behind Garbage Pail Kids Has Been Cartooning With Code for 20 Years

John Pound has been a cartoonist all his life. But most people beyond a certain age ( I'd say mid 30's and beyond), may remember his works of art in drawing 'the garbage pail kids' , which was from 1984. I can just about remember the collector's cards series on these and doing 'playground swaps' with them. It was also around that time that I  discovered a roland jx3-p synthesizer in a music class, which you can read more about here

Soon after, Pound was excited by the prospect of using the then very new commodore Amiga ( i still own one and it works!), to see if he could find a way of implementing and integrating his workflow and  style with the technology . To that end, he taught himself to code,  and created his own programs designed to auto-generate pieces of visual works in a cartoon-esque style, which is a remarkable achievement in itself.

More than 20 years later, and he has since had his works exhibited and published volumes of these works, which is up to number (or 'sketchbook') 29. Although there is still a decent sized amount of human interaction involved in setting parameters and so on within the software ( he does all this himself), the results are very eye catching and quite spectacular in some cases. In any event, you can have a look and make your mind up, if you follow the links in the article.

In the process of creating art works of any type and genre, you naturally end up with redundant and even immediately unusable ideas and products . Unless you're working with large amounts of clay and/or other large physical substances and items, then it's fair to say that you can file it all away for another day and a rethink, wether this is digitally on a backup drive or in some form of  tangible, manageable storage (e.g. if it's on paper, then  you can file it away).

However, if it's all kept unattended and unmanaged, you can end up with a landfill of ideas, which can be hard to entangle and sift through, unless you're then dedicated in the art of doing so. Unlike a real landfill, these can still be easily erased and possibly even reused and recycled.

Fortunately, not all landfills are destined  to end up as redundant mounds of foul smells and gases, if this final article is anything to go by :-

Stinky landfills might soon generate clean energy

It's the methane gas in landfills that creates that familiar yet fetid odour which keeps mankind at bay. Fortunately there is a solution in the works, which is covered in the link above. 

In the meantime, im off to devour those oranges. I might grab some nectarines later too. And strawberries.

Come to think of it, a fruit salad's not a bad idea.