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.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Swings and roundabouts; the seven year digital itch that's not so scratchy anymore



some of the most recognisable social media icons of modern times.



To get completely cliched off the bat, I've got a number of social media accounts, which is par for the course these days. There's one here (obviously), there's twitter, linked in, about.me, pinterest and of course there's a presence on the number one site that is currently giving a lot of people a lot of aggravation at the moment. Yup, it's facebook.

I've had an account on there for several years. I've pruned my online presence and the friends list has been altered extensively over time. Ive also had some odd changes on there, which led me to suspect that my account may have been compromised a few times. This may have happened during my travels, when I was using my phone to access it at various points around the world. But that's all past and it's all 'done with', so to speak. Nothing to worry about for me on that front.

Now I'm not going to go into the whole history of the platform, including how revolutionary it has all been and the resultant impact on society en masse. Neither will I be going into 'storm off in a huff' mode either. In effect, whatever I have to say on it is just another opinion at the end of the day.

But I do feel entitled to say something, cause I think a lot of this is just like the feeling you get when a long term relationship in your life, starts going through changes. Some of those changes aren't always welcome..actually all changes, when unannounced, aren't really embraced with open arms, which may have something to do with the 'lizard brain' part of our mental scapes( for information on that aforementioned reptilian concept, feel free to have a search on the internet). Facebook has done this a lot in the last three to four years. None of the changes, to my knowledge or memory, have been given as an option. You just have to 'roll with it', as it were. But there are logical reasons to justify this, at least to a degree.

In order to remain current and ultimately competitive with any other upcoming platforms, facebook has had to make a lot of changes to it's layout, with the ubiquitous (and arousing controversy) timeline and newsfeed areas going through the brunt of it. This seems to be the major gripe voiced by all. But I think that all of that  is still the 'cooking steam' so to speak, of this interesting stew that is really bothering a lot of people, including me to some extent. It revolves around the issue of connectivity to both the app and the world within and outside of the platform. Put even more simply, it's all about burnout.

It's fair to say that a lot of people spend a large amount of time on there during the day. Im 'guestimating' well  over 2 hours a day of combined useage, with perhaps four hours (or more) becoming a 'norm time'. I have no idea of the percentages, but I'm hedging that this accounts for over 50%  of the entire user base. Think about that for a second. Now think about the concurrent effect that has on people's 'real world' social interactivity. Now think about the other potential knock on effects to relationships, and general behaviour per se, both individually and collectively.

Im not talking about some 'hidden agenda' to brainwash the masses, or inferring that there is some other veiled nonsense going on there ( I don't buy into those theories as a rule), but more about how we're all pandering to the '15 minutes of fame' effect. There's nothing wrong with  letting the world know how good or bad everything is, but I suspect it's all becoming a streamlined route to sometimes parodying our actual existence, in almost real-time.

And as our actual existence becomes more reliant on ironically becoming more anti-social in the physical sense in order to use social media so heavily, some of us are almost intuitively  kicking backwards and sloping off into the blue yonder on hiking trips and log-cabin style retreats in ever increasing numbers, out of  some sort of  hardwired, evolutionary/ biological frustration.

At a deep core level, we're all social animals. We need human contact. The physicality aspect, the non verbal cues, the sensory perceptions such as the smell of a person, their facial gestures and so on, just cannot be met using social media. That, I think, is the biggest subconscious frustration. If you're miles away from someone , wether a friend or even someone you've just connected with on there that you get along fine with, with a view to becoming 'real world' friends, then the next natural step may be to organise a gathering or meet up. Or am I in a minority there, for thinking that's still a 'normal' thing to do?

If I am in a minority on that respect, then why on earth are we all complaining at some level? Because the core selection of 'reasons to grumble' alludes back to the basic human need aspect that I've already mentioned. It's almost like continually watching yourself watching others watching you, watching yourself being watched by others watching you, who are also being watched by others , who now have the opportunity to watch you as well, whilst watching themselves, without having their deeply embedded sociological needs met, which in itself takes you away a little more from wanting to go out into the world to spend more quality time with, and so on.

For example, I've occasionally felt a little self conscious on there, because I've seen names of people come up in threads that I don't know, and I've replied to them directly due to the context of the post allowing this.  Sometimes, as in the real world, it leads to a bit of an 'awkward silence' and at other times everyone just joins in. I have to commend facebook for trying, wether by luck or design (it's likely to be a well examined combination of both) to alter people's perception of what is considered a better way to communicate with each other per se, and of course en masse.

On a personal note, I suspect im just feeling the knackering effect of repetitive interactivity on there, which is akin to having the same menu options in an a la carte place or fast food outlet, without any real revamp; you're going to ultimately eat one of three or four of the options ( maybe less for some who are absolute creatures of habit), day in day out  .Consequently, maybe I'm in a minority and feel ive painted myself into a bit of a corner on it after several years. But I used to be one of the heavier users that I've described above.

I haven't deleted it off my phone or deactivated my account. Why? Because I'm honest enough to admit that I still like the idea of having an account on there so I can still chip in with the odd quip,clever factoid, have a minor whinge ( no point in denying that it's something that isn't done, cause I'm pretty sure everyone has had a rant or 'big moan' at some point too) or just stride onwards to savour those moments of  rheotrical greatness and glory, where we're all in agreement or one of us ( i.e. myself), is the one who gets loads of likes from people that matter. A bit comical and 'sixth form college student' really, but at least I have the chutzpah to admit to the above. Ultimately, It's the best ' sociological quick fix' provider there is, when the need be, both good and bad.

To conclude, it's back to my relationship analogy. It's literally the seven year problem for me. After a long period of using facebook robustly, I've gradually lost interest in using it over the last six months. But that may well change at some point. Eventually I may delete the account, deactivate it or just abandon it, with facebook admin supposedly sending me an email at some point, reminding me of my account, asking if I'm still wanting to keep it and use it.

But as I also stated earlier on, it's just my opinion of it right now. What I'm not going to do is end by going into the major negatives that I feel are also being alluded to it,  such as it becoming some sort of amplified  digital/virtual zoo , and  it pushing people towards hypersensitive emotive mood swings and so on ( there are arguements for and against both of these scenarios on the internet, but that's for another time). Because ultimately, even though it can act like a massive hall of mirrors to your own psyche, you still have a choice as to how much and with whom you want to interact to and with. As long as that's there, then just like anything else in life, you can walk away from it and do as you please.

On a personal note, the real world was and very much still is, always more important to me, otherwise I can't feed back after recharging in it when I have to go back into the digital world, to interpolate and reiterate my experiences. That in itself speaks volumes about the digital landscape potentially being enough to subject you to burn out, which is slightly paradoxical considering all the aforementioned, but that particular scenario encapsulates all digital interactivity per se.

Ultimately, I'm still very much aware of my need for actual 'terra firma', friends and family, and right now that's where my priority time lies. It's not about anything serious or heavy duty. It's all about change. Just like I'm noticing the leaves on the trees outside starting to turn that very warm and welcoming shade of orange to brown here and there, as we come into autumn/fall. The smell when I leave the house, is a little more musty and 'wet oak like' on occasion now too.

And a large field of wheat (or similar) about 18 miles away, has now been shorn down and harvested, leaving a clean and tidy landscape of multidirectional acreages going into the horizon and beyond. Metaphorically, a clean social media landscape is also the best we can hope for in the next five years and beyond.

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

and

 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 making..you 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 post..here.















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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Sunday, 17 August 2014

Whether the weather is hot; dictionary entries, internet bloat and retrain your brain

Because I went to bed early this morning, and woke with a general vibe of "meh" ( i'll refer back to this later in the article) which still lingered a little after my usual morning yoga, I chose not to go 'messing about on the river' today, with a bunch of friends. In short, when you're tired, you're just tired and the lethargy sometimes sits there in the mood for a while. It's a good or bad thing, depending on what you feel at the time.

Not being one to willingly just "slump it", so to speak,  about an hour before the actual planned meet-up, I looked out of the lounge window and then sauntered outside with my mug of coffee, with a view to getting a bit more perked-up.  But the cloudy, grey, washed out ambience just wasn't inspiring the necessary emotive vitamin or booster vibes that I needed to help swing the decision towards 'going for it!', and leaving the house to get to the waterways.

Today could just be a minor blip on the summer weather chart here in the U.K, or it could be the first signs of autumn, which is a season I also love, due to the  enthusiastic scattering of  rust / orange coloured leaves starting to appear amongst the foiliage. I'm going with the former reasoning, as I've always loved summer and want it to last a little while longer.

Speaking of changes, the english language recieved another swathe of zeitgeist flavoured vocabulary recently, via additions to the oxford dictionaries website. This is the 'side arm' of the company and is not to be confused with the official oxford english dictionary we know and refer to :-

Oxford Dictionaries Adds ‘Hot Mess,’ ‘Side Boob,’ ‘Throw Shade’

I confess that I know what side boob, YOLO and FML are, and the other entries made me chuckle wholeheartedly and smile. I mentioned "meh" earlier, as that's another form of expression used to indicate a level of apathy or disinterest. It's not, to my knowledge, in any dictionary..at least not yet *.

Ultimately I'm all for a change in the way people express themselves, as long it doesn't resort back to full on grunts, in a neanderthal style. Come to think of it, grunting in itself has many levels of expressivity, as is indicated by a night out when the food and drink starts to (over) flow, at work when even saying 'yes' or 'no' is too much of an effort, and during parliamentary debates.

All the aforementioned are usually indicators of some level of  system overload that brings about this 'back to basics' approach, and I've participated in two of them, at various times over the years ( no, I'm not a member of parliament).  On the whole however, humans are mostly good at redressing that sort of imbalance pretty rapidly, as and when required; e.g. if your boss/other half etc, walks in and looks unimpressed with the general scene/vibe.

But the internet is a less immediate system to readjust, if subjected to bloating. This is illustrated here in the following article by referencing a web hosting company, and the problems they had as a result :- 

The Internet Has Grown Too Big for Its Aging Infrastructure

In my lifetime, I've spent a portion of it being 'an I.T. guy'.  To that aid, I sat a number of the exams, passed them ( in some instances with very high test scores),  and then just got on with the job. I've mentioned all of this, as i'll try and make some parts of the article less 'techy' for the uninitiated. In short, when we use the internet, the journey our requests for information take via the send and recieve routes is limited by the amount of  electronic routes available to make those journeys.

A real world example could be to ask two different courier services to deliver a parcel or letter from you to the other side of town on the same day, after direct pick up from your house or flat.  In effect, there are a finite number of routes and both vendors will try to do this as cost effectively as they can, with all the variables that contains (and entails),  and the mapping devices such as sat navs and even paper maps, will aid in that.

The routers used by service providers are like a more powerful beefed up version of a connecting device, with it's own built in sat nav style system, akin to our domestic routers but with much more memory and interconnectability. However, the routers themselves are in some cases running out of 'map storage space' numerically, with 512000 'routes' being the maximum route memory capacity for many devices.

As the internet has grown far larger in the last few years for all sorts of reasons, the routers are starting to choke on the levels of data being thrown at them, thereby causing what I call the 'cough splutter' effect. It can be manfested as a slow down when surfing the 'net, or even a time-out style 'page freeze' when locating a website. Sometimes you even get the ubiquitous "404 error" (file not found) as it's taken so long to locate the resource or page, that it just gives up during the journey.

Thankfully, as there is an increased awareness of the problem, vendors can contribute to building a workaround and/or a solution to resolve it. This is essential, as the increased proliferation of connectable devices will mean a larger siphoning off of network bandwidth, during useage. Slow-downs and choke-ups used to be pretty common to my memory, especially back in the late 90's when I was still using dial-up to connect to the internet, and you were at the mercy of a mostly analogue network to perform everything. That's now a thing of the past and we can mostly connect with remarkable fluidity and ease these days.

Speaking of reaching the limits, the final article brings it all back to the human being, and is about how to retrain your brain to better handle your own level of cerebral overload :-

4 Ways To Retrain Your Brain To Handle Information Overload

What's interesting for me, is that it says multi-tasking is a myth. Im not so sure about that. I mean, I'm sitting here with the music on, reading articles, writing my post, trying hard not to think about how hungry I'm now becoming and occasionally looking out of the window to see if the weather has changed ( it hasn't and is still "meh"), whilst still carrying on typing this out, and editing it as I go along. That's multitasking, as far as I know. Still, I could always look out of the window a lot less and go and eat something, which would narrow it down to the essentials, so to speak.

On a more serious note,  Daniel Levitin, a psychologist and behavioral neuroscientist who is referenced within the article, does make some very valid points regards what I call suffering from 'brain drain', which is the result of over-tasking far too much, in the name of productivity. Naturally, your focus does slip here and there, when you're taking on too much all at once. Especiallly in the name of getting on with at least one main task at hand whilst having some variety of other 'jobs to do' as well, for example.

I haven't yet read Levitin's book,  but it's interesting for me to note that there is a whole generation who seem to be far more adept at a higher level of multitasking from a younger age. I see them using smartphones with a level of speed and fluidity that is remarkable, and they're also more happily ensconced in using multi function controller devices when playing games, than the generation(s) before them.

My take on it, may be that it's also more age related too, which is logical and also references each generation being born into a different set of socio-economic variables that relied on them needing to perform different sets of tasks as the norm, depending on what they encountered in their immediate environments. Technology is there as a tool to help us and not in my mind, to become the ultimate 'command system' which takes too much away from the humane aspect of interactivity.

Ultimately, that's a discussion for another time, but as long as I can still reach for an on and off button somewhere on a device, then 'Im fine.  Knowing that I still have that vestige of control that allows me to disengage at will, is what the man machine interaction equation is all about for me.

And now my need for nourishment and glucose based ingestives has reached a level of 'come on! what are you waiting for?', that needs placating, so I must attend to that forthwith.  But first, one more look out of the window.

I can see four different shades of grey cloud, strewn across the sky.."meh". 

* I've since found that "meh" is on the oxford dictionaries site, which I swear I had no idea about until I checked up on this, when editing this post:-

Meh 

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.

Monday, 11 August 2014

One, Two & Three; be yourself, cause everyone else is taken.

An early morning start to the day, means that like most people, I tend to lean sideways to switch the phone alarm off. After 10 or so minutes of quietus outside ( it's a heaven sent tableau for the soul), I'm back in and upstairs to do a very quiet yoga for 90 minutes. It's after that, that my day begins.

I try to operate by the "first thought" principle, when it comes to ideas and inspiration, which is that whatever lingers around within you immediately after reading, watching, looking or even eating or smelling  something, tends to be the idea ( or ideas) that moved you at a core or soul level. So the following three articles (one is actually a video and a very enjoyable one at that) are those that resonated with me the strongest during the day. They are :-

1) Entrepreneur Looks Beyond Africa's Problems To Focus On Solutions

Vital Sounouvou is a young whippersnapper who just went ahead and "did it". More precisely, he managed to look past the problems his country was facing on many levels, most of which it could be argued are interlinked, and actually saw the opportunity for a turnaround due to yet another problem that no one was bothering to ( at least overtly) solve.

In short,  farmers were being left out of a much larger trade loop because most of the people who owned cellphones in Africa don't own the advanced internet friendly style handsets or smartphones that we are used to in the developed world, so how would they then connect to the global ecosystem as easily, or even at all?
He solved this by having built the only app which can be used on smart and non-smart phones, to help farmers trade their goods more effectively outside of their own small towns, such as Benin, which is where he was from. He's now effectively helped others to help themselves, and will be helping himself in the bargain, too. A win-win scenario.

Fred Seibert: Never Compete in the Scrum

Fred Siebert's achievements go back a long way. From the MTV logo, to nickelodeon, to cartoon network and beyond, he can be described as a "creative genius". But he doesn't see himself that way. He sees himself as a "problem solver", who lets other people get on with the nuts and bolts of the work.

Great leaders always let others take some of the credit, for high morale is essential when leading ( even if by semi-proxy...more on that at a later date) people to deliver the goods. Not competing in the scrum ( read the article if you don't understand what that means), is wise if you're going to be different, in order to make a difference. Or rather, you'll dare to be different which means you may get burned in the process a little more than the rest, in order to reach your destination, which you may not even be aware of for sure yet.

But you'll be marking your own territory and effectively have drawn your own maps and targets, innovating, leading and challenging all at the same time. That takes courage, and some real class to go ahead with.

Mark Ecko: Embrace the Mess

And finally, Mark Ecko covers my all time favourite topics in one presentation. He champions the cause of the artist, who doesn't think they're an artist, who struggles to deal with the 1% of the 100%, and the 99% becomes more important, but who ultimately wants to be successful, make their own mark, wants to get paid and..

why not just watch the rest of the video and maybe learn a thing or two? Or three.

I'm off to figure out how 24 can still mean less than 20 which can all be summated into zero, as of this moment. It made as much sense to me too, when i first tried to figure out what that  actually meant, but all it requires is a little bit of patience, a good dose of quiet time and before you know it..

..problem solved.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Three things that stood out; the consequences of technology, post "wow!" syndrome

As i was munching through brunch ( try saying that after a drink or three) earlier today and perusing the interwebs, looking at what is the news of the day on different portals and seeing what the feeds are bringing up, the following articles hit me straight away.

* How hackable is your car?

*New digital currency system

* Visit the wrong website and you're in trouble with the FBI

On the face of it , none of the above are essentially traditional news items, but it was enough to make me chew a little slower.

In my mind, the "wow!" syndrome, which is the feeling of near euphoria, amazement and a general uplift over what we can achieve and do using technology, has started to taper off considerably in the last few years. Some of this is a natural state of events, because of the accelerated growth of what I call "personal tech" such as tablets and intelligent PDA/phone devices, not just in sales, but in useage.

Increased useage results in habit forming patterns with a  resultant 'comfortable cosiness' feeling, and the "wow!" factor starts to wear a little thin as we take all the extra facilities offered by each successive generation of product, more for granted. This, together with the de rigeur exponential increases in available memory, displays and functionality, means that  the vendors/manufacturers are putting out newer designs of product, at an increased rate, compared to say several years ago.

The point is that now we're over the rainbow, so to speak, the reality of increased tech use has also given rise to the "darker side" of interactivity; namely, abusing the technology to gain unfair advantages in any situation, which are questionable morally, ethically and in certain situations, financially.

The fairly recent exposes of governmental snooping , has naturally led on to a mixture of paranoia, fear, confusion and other negative human emotional reactions commesurate to the feeling of supposedly being constantly watched and monitored.  But I'm confident that we'll ride this part of the journey out too, and im also quite certain that there will be some form of governance introduced more openly, in order to protect and preserve people's data integrity and ultimately their privacy. And there are other issues that need to be addressed relative to this, and the main one, is the issue of security.

We effectively take a level of security on the internet for granted  because it's provided in software form as a "bolt on" with the requisite visible "padlock symbol" in the URL line to remind you ( it's securer browsing), and the banks and all other vendors  also provide you with some level of  cover too.

Ultimately some form of protection is essential when using electronic means to transfer data of any sort, otherwise you'd be open to unheard levels of fraud without any means of recompense or compensation. How much or how little that matters to you, depends on your internet useage patterns per se, but ultimately, being hacked into and having your data taken, examined and used against you for no other reason than it can be, isn't what the internet was originally designed for.

Maybe that's part of the problem that needs to be adressed in itself. The internet was and still is, a huge archive of documents and pictures, with "expansion packs" that have allowed it to be used as a greater transactional tool. These expansion packs have allowed video, sound and all other sorts of newer technological advances ( touch screen interactivity, for example) to be part of the web browsing experience.

But any sort of system that has "bolt ons" that have to then be allowed to be readjusted over different operating systems, browsers et al in real time for the ubiquitous "updates and bug fixes" required, is naturally going to be subjected to hiccups, due to technology and real world based time inconsistencies and constraints. That's another scenario that we may well have the opportunity to resolve better before the internet becomes too vast to be more consistently smooth and safe as a user experience.

It's fair to say that Tim Berners-Lee probably never envisaged the internet becoming what it has now become, which in my metaphorical view is a huge shopping mall with anything and everything going for sale, with a series of recreational rooms solely to just sit back and read and share data of any format and style. Ultimately,  since we're all interacting and transacting , then we all have some responsibility towards making the internet a place that is still fun with less of a fear factor attached to it. Just like it was back in the 1990's.

So how do we recreate an emotional feelgood factor using a very rapidly evolved, 25 year old technology, which may well be at a maturity phase?

Now that's a question which I'd love to see answered.