Entries related to technology.

Shaping Ava

Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit. Happy New Year! We perform our rituals, say our incantations in hopes that, somehow, this year will be better. For a day, we forget the quote attributed to Einstein, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”, and make the same resolutions.

This year, I’ve been seeing a quote attributed to Mark Twain making the rounds, “New Year's Day--Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.”

Last night, we had a YouTube Riff Off. This is a game we play where one person plays a song on YouTube, and the next person riff’s off of that tune, selecting some other tune the first tune made them think of. We go around and around as one tune leads to another and one mood gives way to the next. It is interesting to observe what emerges.

We started off with Auld Lang Syne and went to songs about children growing up, Cat’s Cradle, Circle Game. We went to the sending off phase of Black Parade and Carry on my Wayward son, to remembrances, in “Will you remember me”, “Box of Rain” and “Ode to Billie Joe” The Riff off culminated in a nod to religious coexistence in The Kennedys’ song Stand.

Perhaps it reflected some of the themes for the coming year, as Fiona potentially heads off to school and I explore more deeply my religious calling.

Afterwards, we watched “Ex Machina”. I’ve been interested in AI’s for a long time and remember a saying that AIs would end up looking like their creators. Back then, the folks working on AI were nerdy engineers. In Ex Machina, the guy creating the AI is a reclusive genius. The software for the AI is the large search engine he has created and made his fortunes off of.

It is an idea that has fascinated me for a long time. What if our search engines and social networks are the new AIs, or at least the source of information for these AIs about social behavior? Seem unlikely? It’s already happening.

IBM's new Insights service harvests data from millions of tweets and uses Watson to analyze them for sentiment and behavior

IBM'S Watson Can Figure Out A Lot About You—Just By Looking At Your Social Media

IBM Is Using Watson To Psychoanalyze People From Their Tweets

Matters Of The Mind: Mass. Computer Scientist Creates Technology To Read Emotions

So, are we now just pawns, nodes in some giant AI? Are the results of the 2016 U.S. Presidential campaign already predetermined? Does it matter who gets elected anyway? Are we just amplifying echoes in the social media echo chamber when we like or share messages about Trump, Bernie, or Hillary?

Can we shape Ava? If so, how?

It seems easy to be discouraged when you look at all the issues our country and our world faces. Will what I write help shift the direction of climate change? Will what I write help bring an end to oppression; to racism or sexism?

I chose to remain optimistic. I think Robert Kennedy’s quote provides some insight.

Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

Here, we could go off into a long discussion about whether sharing posts that reflect our political or religious views counts as standing up for an ideal. We could talk about slacktivism and whether we are just going back to paving the road to hell. Yet that, too, most likely leads to hopelessness and inaction.

Instead, I think David Foster Wallace presents a more useful way of looking at it in his commencement speech, This Is Water

The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default-setting, the “rat race” — the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing.

Perhaps this is the real challenge, for the new year, for each day, in shaping Ava, to challenge the default settings, to pay attention, to be aware, not only to the trending topics on Facebook or Twitter, but to the simple things around us, the beauty of the squirrel running in the woods, probably the same squirrel that has been raiding your bird feeder, the common humanity of the homeless guy you see on the street.

Happy New Year.

Glitter Beards, Tech Tats, and the Quantified Self

I’ve never been a big one for makeup, tattoos, are various forms of body decorations, but recently, Kim shared a post about glitter beards and I was curious about how they get the glitter to stay in their beards.

One of the first sites I came to talked about latex body paint. That’s not something I want to use in my beard. I can’t imagine what it would be like to get the paint out. However, rereading the article, it appears as if they were using latex body paint for people that don’t have beards to make a faux-glitter beard. A later article suggested that beard oil, hair oil, or even hairspray would do the trick.

I’m not sure when I would glitter my beard. It just isn’t a decoration I would normally wear. Perhaps if I were doing something special with my three daughters, I would consider it, but one is in Japan, one is in Boston, and one is at home, so I don’t foresee any opportunity to glitter my beard for them, and I really don’t think glittering my beard for work parties, political gatherings, etc., really fits. Maybe an Ingress gathering, but I’d have to have green glitter.

Putting aside beard glittering, I stumbled across an interesting article: “Tech Tats” Turn Wearable Devices into Cyberpunk Body Art. It pointed to work Chaotic Moon is doing in this area. It looks very interesting, but appears to be still more of a concept than a product.

The stories about Tech Tats often lead to discussions about the quantified self. This is an area I’m really interested in, merging my health care work and my technology interests. I probably won’t make it to the Quantified Self Meetup in NYC in December, but I’m following what they are doing.

For two years, I wore Google Glass, and while I found it interesting and somewhat useful, the biggest thing I found lacking was any sort of useful sensors. I would like wearable device that could track activity level, heart rate, blood pressure, O2 level, blood sugar levels, cortisol levels, etc. I would like to know how these change during a normal day. I’d like to have a baseline so that if my averages start shifting, I could be notified to investigate what might be going on.

I played with the Samsung Gears for a little bit and didn’t find it all that compelling. I’ve looked at the Withings Pulse O2, but it needs to be manually engaged to do a reading. It doesn’t seem quite ready for prime time.

All of this takes me back to the Tech Tats. Is it possible to build a continuous O2 monitor as a Tech Tat? What about continuous monitors for blood sugar or cortisol?

So, I looked a little more closely at the idea behind Tech Tats. It seems as if part of what they are using, at least for the prototypes is BarePaint - Conductive Paint. This paint comes with a warning,

Note: Bare Paint is not meant for use on skin!

Note: Bare Paint is not waterproof, but depending on what your application is you can paint over it with a waterproof paint or varnish. On the bright side this does make for easy cleanup.

Perhaps, you could paint a layer of latex body paint, then paint the circuits using conductive paint, and then paint over the circuits to make them water proof.

A simple idea would be to paint circuits that could be connected or not based on touching fingers together. These could be very simple circuits that light up LEDs when circuits are connected. They could even, potentially, be multi-person circuits; one person with the battery, others with LEDs.

Then, there is the idea of adding logic to the circuits. It seems like the ATtiny85 and related devices could easily be part of tech tats and provide the logic.

Of course, some of the real fun could come if you start adding Bluetooth to connect to a mobile device, RFID paint, or NFC connectivity. All of this, probably moves more in the direction of programmable highly interactive makeup for fancy parties, and not so much for quantified self experimentation, but it could be a stepping stone.

The Samuel Baldwin Memorial Ingress Portal

The cars zoomed by
the large rock
with the rusting bronze
and the small American Flag
planted by the D.A.R.

No one,
except for the town historian,
an avid genealogist,
who served on the school board,
knew anything
about this
revolutionary war
the first cousin
of her fourth great grandfather
on her mother’s side.

But now,
late at night
young men with cellphones
stop beside the monument
a twenty first century
game of war.

Note: This was written for a writers prompt to describe a landmark. I took a different angle on this and described the landmark, first in terms of the actual, someone obscure landmark, and then brought in aspects of the game Ingress, played on cellphones, in which landmarks are ‘portals’ in the game.


For my birthday, I got a bluetooth OBDII adapter. OBDII is the second revision of the on board diagnostic systems used in most cars today. It is probably best known in terms of the scanner that is used to figure out why the check engine light is on. However, it can also be used for all kinds of diagnostics.

The specific Bluetooth OBD11 adapter I got was made by BAFX. It is a fairly inexpensive adapter. I paired it with my Samsung Galaxy G4 phone and ran two apps.

The first app was Torque Lite. Torque seems to be the most popular app for Android devices talking with cars over OBDII Bluetooth adapters. My gearhead friends may find the information Torque provides interesting, but mostly, I used it as a test to make sure the adapter was working.

The app I was more interested in is MyGreenVolt. It is designed for volts, focusing on electricity consumption, battery temperature, Miles per kWh and stuff like that.

On my initial test, it seems not to run well in the background, which is how I had hoped to run it. The idea being that I would gather the data, and then analyze it later when I’m not driving. Fortunately, I have two cell phones, so I started running it on the phone I use less frequently.

So far, I’m getting about 4.4 miles/kWh. I’m not sure how that compares with others, and I’m not sure what I can do to get better mileage. I’ve only briefly looked at the data from the App and I expect that will be the next area I spend some time analyzing.

If any of you know other good resources on using OBDII with a Chevy Volt, let me know.

Random Ingress Thoughts

This evening, I’m going heading off to an Ingress event. Ingress is an augmented reality game played on smartphones that I’ve been playing and writing about for quite a while. I haven’t written much about it recently because there hasn’t been much to say. I still play regularly and meet with friends I’ve met through Ingress.

There are things I could say about my strategy, but Ingress is a team sport, and I don’t want to advertise my strategy to people on the other team that might take advantage of knowing how I approach playing. I could talk about various milestones. I’m level 15 out of 16 levels. I’ve walked over 1800 kilometers playing the game. People who play Ingress mostly know this already and it probably doesn’t mean much to those that don’t play Ingress.

One of the things I was very interested in, when I started playing, was the story line of the game, but I never got as caught up in the story as I thought I would. I’ve also mostly chosen to simply play and not get involved in some of the drama. There is a lot of drama between players in the game.

It raises some interesting questions about how you manage the community around a multi-player game. I touch on this in a post on an Ingress related forum the other day, but haven’t really thought out the details. This is probably an area well worth the research, and I wonder if any of my old Internet Research friends are starting to do studies on Ingress.

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