Technology

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I Get My News….

Today celebrates the tenth anniversary of the launching of Blog for America. Over the past ten years, I've followed a lot of different blogs and used various tools to do so. Back in 2005, I wrote about using Flock, del.icio.us and Bloglines. I used del.icio.us quite a bit, but over time started using Bloglines more. Both were shutdown and then resuscitated. Flock never really did much for me, but I did end up using Rockmelt quite a bit, including some limited RSS capabilities.

When Twitter came along, I started spending more time with Twitter, and my wife even made a shirt for me with the line, "I get my news on Twitter".

When Blogline shutdown, I moved most of my blog reading over to Google Reader. Now, it has been announced Google Reader is shutting down, and I need to figure out where I go next. A lot of people have been writing a lot of blog posts about the end of Google Reader and what to do next. These have varied from recommending Feedly, news blur, and The Old Reader. Others have spoken about using IFTTT and a 'read later' site. The option that seems like it comes closest for me is the revitalized Feedburner.

Things that are important to me are the ability to look at all unread blog posts, or unread blog posts on specific blogs. It is important to me to be able to have many feeds. Currently, I'm following around 500 different blogs. Bloglines does all of this fairly nicely. The one thing that I'll miss when I finally move off of Google Reader is the mobile abilities. I haven't been able to find a bloglines client for Android.

Another thing that I liked about Google Reader is that besides having a mobile client, you could also read your stories on Flipboard. Hopefully, there will be the ability to read feeds stored from Bloglines or other sites from Flipboard and other mobile apps as well.

Other sites have suggested using newer news services that select what they think I'll be interested in based on topics. So far, other than Google News, none of these have really been all that interesting to me.

All of that said, I have three months before I have to move off of Google Reader, and I wouldn't be surprised to see lot of new developments between now and then.

If any of you have recommendations for good RSS/Blog readers, let me know

Rethinking the Borg

Yesterday, I stumbled across an interesting article, A Brain-to-Brain Interface for Real-Time Sharing of Sensorimotor Information. It goes into detail about how a sensor was connected to one rat's brain, and the experiences were transmitted, over the internet, to another rat who learned from the experiences of the first rat.

My science fiction enthusiastic brain went wild thinking about the possibilities. While the starting point is with sensorimotor information, I wondered what else could be transmitted. While the starting point was rats, I wondered what could be done with humans, or even, interspecies communications. What would it be like to experience the sensorimotor feelings of a horse galloping? Could this information be stored and played at a later time, perhaps as an educational tool? Could I become a better pianist or guitarist by playing back sensorimotor recordings of great performers? Could this be added to albums, so I could not only listen to a great performance, but experience the sensory feelings of the performer during the performance?

And what about the use in dealing with conditions like Parkinson's disease or Essential Tremors: Could a researcher gain insight by playing back the sensorimotor recording of a person with these conditions? Could playing back the sensorimotor recordings of healthy people provide some sort of therapy for people with these conditions?

All of this, of course, is precursor to The Borg. What happens as people become more connected to a collective mind? The borg is portrayed negatively in terms of force assimilation, yet our society has always been based on collective experiences and action. The struggle between individual experience and collective experience is an age old struggle.

Last night, I went to see The Indigo Girls in concert in Northampton with my daughter who started her college career in Virginia. It was striking to think about the collective experience of young women around Northampton and how it compared with the collective experience of some of my daughter's classmates from the south. I wondered how many of my daughter's classmates sought to flee their southern collectives, not for more individuality, per se, but to join a collective that was more tolerant, more embracing of their individual experiences.

I remember, many years ago, gathering around a campfire, to sing songs. Singing around campfires is one of the earliest ways in which experiences were shared, in which the collective spread its common ideas. Yet even two decades ago, around the campfire, different modes of collective engagement were creeping in. Many of the songs we knew, we had learned on the radio, and not around previous campfires. The campfire itself, was most likely started using the remains of another way of sharing collective information, used newspapers. We shared our experiences from around the campfire when we returned to our homes and spoke with friends.

Last night, the individuals who had this shared experience had gained collective information other ways. They had listened to music online, perhaps sharing it online. The newspapers were largely replaced by sharing of news online. Perhaps the most striking change was the way the collective experience of the concert was shared. During the concert, people texted their friends. They called friends from their cellphones so their friends could listen in, or to leave a brief recording of the experience on their friends voicemail. Photographs and videos were taken, and I imagine, shared via social media.

As far as I know, no one had implements allowing them to have the same sensorimotor experiences as Amy Ray or Emily Saliers, yet this omission did not seem to lesson the very strong bond between the audience and the performers.

Progress marches onward and some day, perhaps, we will look back at how we have shared common experiences via pictures, sound recordings or the written word, as being as quaint as the gathering around the campfire many generations before. Yet we would do well to remember the words of John Donne, "No man is an island" and that each one of us should say, "For I am involved in mankind".

Storm Streaming and Raspberry Video Stuff

Today, I was thinking about best ways to live stream the storm and I was interested in experimenting more with the Raspberry Pi. So I did a little digging and came up with a couple interesting projects.

First, was setting up the Raspberry Pi to stream video that could be shared. This was fairly straight forward. Previously, I had hooked up my Logicam QuickCam Pro 9000 to the Raspberry Pi and it worked pretty well. Now came the task of finding the best way to stream it.

I found this blog post, Using a Raspberry pi to live stream video to Bambuser. So, I set up an account on Bambuser. As a brief diversion, I install bambuser on my Android cellphone and found that it streams nicely that way. I streamed parts of my drive home during the beginning of the storm and it seemed to work well, although I haven't looked at the video it produced.

I simply stuck the cellphone up on the dashboard and tried to keep it from sliding around too much. I may look for options to mount the cellphone to stream car rides in the future.

Getting the Raspberry Pi to stream to Bambuser was incredibly easy. Install a program, set up the parameters and start streaming. It is using rtmp: and I'm wondering if there are other things that I could stream with this. YouTube Live? Google Hangout? Other stuff? That is a project I'll explore a little bit later.

It got me back to another project. I have an old Pinnacle PCTV HD Ultimate Stick (880e) that I'd love to get working with Raspberry Pi. So far, I don't know of anyone who has succeeded with this. By doing a little digging it looks like I need to enable the em28xx device. One blog post that goes into details about this is from Bufocam.

I tried doing this, but it requires perl as part of the procedure and for some reason, I'm having problems installing Perl, so I'll save that for a different day.

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The Second Screen

I don't watch a lot of television. If I do watch television, it is likely to be something on the Roku, most likely something from Netflix. I haven't yet watched 'House of Cards' on Netflix, but I'm hearing good stuff about it. It is interesting to see changes in who is producing video content.

When I do watch television, I like to do it as a social event and I've tweeted about various shows for years. Now, there are a growing number of 'second screen' apps and websites. I installed Zeebox on my phone quite a while ago, but have never ended up using it. Today, I tried to use it during the Animal Planet Puppy Bowl, but without any success.

The other day, I got an invitation to Tweet.TV Initially, I didn't find Animal Planet, but that was because it had me defaulting to some television system in Pennsylvania. When I configured it to my local cable company, Animal planet came up and I started tweeting about Puppy Bowl.

Tweet.TV has gamification. You score points for connecting, tweeting, etc. You can use these points to pick up deals or freebies, similar to Klout Perks. So far, none of the perks have really caught my attention.

So, as we approach the big game, we'll see what social media tools I'll use for my second screen. What are you using as a second screen during the big game?

We All Live in a Science Fiction Novel

I am writing this on a laptop computer. Here, in the twenty first century, this seems pretty normal, but I thought, how would I have described a laptop computer to my grandfather, who never lived to see one. It would sound like science fiction.

It is like a small metallic briefcase, except when I open it up, it is not empty except for the papers, books, and maybe a slide rule inside. The top part of the inside of the brief case is like a large piece of glass, lit up from behind. On this glass are words and images. With the right commands, I can make pictures I've taken appear on the piece of glass. I can make movies play. There is a small black dot above the glass. It is a camera lens, and I can take a picture as well, which can then be displayed on the glass.

On the lower half of the metallic briefcase, there are two very small gratings. Behind these are speaks,so I can hear the sound of the movies. I can also listen to music or other recordings with the sound coming out of these speakers. On the left side is a small hole where I can insert a small metal plug, with wires than lead up to headphones. These are not like the headphones that bomber pilots used in World War II. They are very small fitting into each ear, instead of encompassing the ear. That way, I can listen to the sounds without disturbing people near me.

Between the two speakers in the lower half of the metal brief case are the keys of a typewriter. Yet unlike the typical arrangement in cascading rows, the keys are all flat, next to one another. The normal letters and numbers are on the keys, but there are special keys with just symbols on them or with abbreviations like 'esc', 'fn', and 'alt'. These keys, together with the normal letters and numbers can be used for writing, the way I am doing now, or for entering the commands that control what is displayed on the piece of glass, or sounds out of the speakers.

Below the keys is a small piece of metal. By moving my fingers around the piece of metal, I can also control the computer. There is a symbol that displays on the glass. As I move my fingers on the piece of metal, the symbol moves around the glass until it is positioned over the section of glass I desire.

Then, there are other things, hidden in this metallic briefcase. There is a battery so it works even when it isn't plugged in. There is a radio. This radio is different from the one you listen to music or the ballgame on. It is used for the briefcase to communicate with others computers around the world. Not only does it receive information, it sends it out as well. Other computers listen for this information, and then send back appropriate information as a response. In face, the pictures, movies or sounds are often information send back over this radio.

It would be more than my grandfather could take in, and the discussion might change to other topics. He might notice a strange small green light flashing from the dog's collar. Inside of the small black box on the dog's collar would be another radio. This one would only receive very simple information. With a different device, I could send messages to the dog's collar making the collar make beeping sounds to call or warn the dog, and if the dog didn't respond, I could send a message that would cause the dog to experience a small amount of pain, an electrical shock. Yes, a device to remotely control the dog.

It is all like science fiction. He might wonder where people ever got such ideas. That, I would say, is a great question. I might point out to him that even his life would seem like science fiction to those a generation or two earlier. Messages sent through the air, like smoke signals that people couldn't see. The ability to capture the reflection on a lake or mirror, and make it permanent in a photograph. Carriages that could be moved around without a horse pulling them.

Last night, my dreams were filled with three dimensional printers. Printing has come a long way from the strike of a key on a ribbon full of ink to make the typed word. It has come along way from the strange smelling mimeographs that my kids have no memory of. It has come a long way from the typesetters craft.

Now, a nozzle sprays rapidly drying ink on a piece of paper, or puts some black dust on the paper that gets stuck to it by a charge from a laser. We take laser printers for granted in our offices and sometimes in our homes. What if, instead of printing on paper, we could print one piece of plastic on top of another to make a three dimensional object? What if we could this with clays, metals, or even wood product? How about with food or living cells? It isn't really all that far away.

And so, if we can pull ourselves away from the gladiators, the bread and circuses, and the entertainments of today, what can we imagine?

Yes, we all live in science fiction novels. Are we up to the task of hero or heroine in these novels? How are we adapting our lives to the constant sources of information and entertainment, to being able to easily get in touch with many people from around the world in an instant? How is all of this changing us? Perhaps most importantly, how is this helping us bring about the next science fiction novels?

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