Sunday, March 29, 2015

My effort at stirring up another Apple fued

Recent discussions in C&S class made me think of a comedian's video on YouTube I saw earlier in the year. Here's the link. It might be useful for the rest of this post or just a funny video picking fun at Apple.

Before I go any further I'd like to say that I don't hate Apple nor am I a disciple. I own an iPhone, iPod, and I had a Macbook before it got too old and I am very happy with all of them. I like Apple as much as the next guy.

A few things in this stand out to me, the first line included. It seems that lately Apple has not been making many groundbreaking improvements in terms of data technology. The new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus did have several cool aspects but to many people, including John Elerick, it was simply making the existing iPhone technology in a bigger package. I for one agree that this phone is too big. Also add that Samsung has used the "new technologies" in their phones for some time now. Not to mention, they've made them waterproof.

Going forward with the video, it brings a thought to my head. Now I'm sure there are plenty of Apple-lovers who will disagree with me on this with certain statistics to back their argument. That's fine, but this is just my viewpoint on the matter. I feel that Apple is relying on the fact that they are Apple and they are already so popular, in order to make money. The Apple Watch is a perfect example of this. As stated in the video, this "combines the technology of a Fitbit and a first generation iPhone." Great...There is nothing spectacular about this watch except that it is another Apple screen. I don't look at this watch and say "wow that's great technology that could be useful." I think, "why don't I just keep wearing the watch I have and do all the other stuff on my iPhone?" John Elerick makes some funny, but fair points in his rant. I think the only people who buy this out of the gate are people who see a new Apple product and feel the need to own it because Apply changed something. Fortunately enough for Apple, they have so many loyal customers that will do this so they will profit well from the watch. I don't know a lot about the ins and outs of Apple Pay, but on the surface it seems that paying via iPhone is still relying on Apple fanatics to just use Apple technology, Is it that hard to pull cash or a card out of your wallet?

The claim remains, and I am forced to agree, that Apple is making strides in design and marketing, not so much in technology.

The Internet of Things is kind of dumb

Tyler’s post last week about the Internet of Things seemed pretty optimistic. This is the opposite of that.

There are positives and negatives to establishing an IoT network. It’s certainly possible to derive some benefit from such a system. Aside from increased quality of life through conveniences, such as having my refrigerator automatically update my shopping list, the Internet of Things could reduce costs through optimization, better organize utilities management, monitor our health, or even the health of our infrastructure. However, an Internet of Things, in which every device is interconnected, is not necessary to achieve these benefits, and carries with it a whole host of problems.
The idea of the Internet of Things makes many devices needlessly complicated. When applied to specific devices, the concept of interconnectivity is fantastic, but the IoT as popularly envisioned is nothing more than a novelty. The Internet has had a tremendous impact on the world, so now people think the Internet is the solution to everything and want to integrate an Internet-like network into their products. At best, it’s just another attempt by companies to add unnecessary features to their products to increase their profits, but even if the intentions behind the IoT are positive, the effects are still negative.
As noted in the final paragraph of Tyler’s post, security issues are a huge concern. One attractive feature of the IoT is the ability to aggregate data. Sensors integrated into clothing and wearable devices could constantly monitor health to provide feedback, based on user configurations, that might lead to healthier lifestyles. Such devices could even be used to help doctors to monitor patients’ recovery even after they leave the hospital, for example. However, such a great deal of biometric data could also be of user for nefarious health insurance purposes by using the data to increase users’ rates.
Even assuming the IoT is standardized in some way, having so many individual devices connected to it would be chaotic. As standards change, problems are fixed, and technology progresses, existing devices would quickly become outdated. Even if there was a way to update them, they would have to constantly be supported, yet companies have little financial incentive to support outdated devices that have already been purchased – getting consumers to purchase new devices is a much more attractive alternative.
The most useful and obvious purpose for these massive data banks is advertising. Advertising is a huge source of income for Internet-based companies, and there is every reason to believe this trend will continue with the IoT. Not only will companies be able to charge consumer more for “smart” devices, but they will even benefit from them. Apart from built-in advertising, the user data generated and aggregated by these devices would be beneficial to the manufacturers directly, as well as open up the possibility for selling it to other companies.
The IoT is an interesting concept, but not all devices need to be “smart.” There is possibly a version of a future IoT that is beneficial, but as it is commonly envisioned now it is just a novelty. It sounds just as dumb now as it did in 1999:

Friday, March 27, 2015

Facebook Drones, A.I., Messenger app and taking over the world

When I used to play football in 8th grade, there was a person who flew a small remote-controlled airplane at almost every practice. So, as you can imagine, when I first heard about drones the image of flying a remote-controlled plane around was the first thing that popped into my mind. What kind of a practical application could that have?

Well, it turns out that I had the idea of a drone wrong. After seeing the promotional Amazon video displaying a drone carrying a package to it's destination, that put drones into a new light for me. Of course, the drone is not implemented yet, but its potential is very high. The beauty of a drone, compared to an remote-controlled toy plane, is that drones can be programmed such that they can fly without any human control: they can be completely autonomous.

The potential is so high, that Facebook is looking to build and implement their own drones, code-named Aquila. The purpose of their drone is to beam Internet access down to the places that do not have the luxury of Verizon, Cablevision, Comcast or other ISPs. With internet access, they'd presumably be able to access Facebook assuming a computer in the customer's possession. The beauty of these drones is that they will be solar-powered, so they will not contribute to global warming. The truly unbelievable thing is that Facebook will be doing test runs as soon as this summer! Facebook's vision is to have a 1,000 drone fleet in the sky. This effort by Facebook is only one of the initiatives that they have taken to access more of the world's population.

To me, it doesn't seem like they're doing this as a "noble" cause (i.e. to better the world by connecting more people via the Internet). I believe their intention is to generate more revenue because, in the grand scheme of things, Facebook makes their money from advertisement views and clicks. Facebook is developing an Artificial Intelligence to better analyze what content can interest the user. If they know this, than their targeted ads can be more accurate, thus making them more money. Consequently, if Facebook has more of a target audience via the drones, they can gain even more revenue.

Take the computers in their data centers for example. HP is going to sell computers with Facebook designs, so that it would reduce the cost for Facebook to purchase. Less cost means more profit. Another example is their Messenger app: they have recently changed the app such that other companies can build apps on top of its current functionality. Again, by doing this, Facebook will have an even stronger base on mobile devices, since these apps are going through the Messenger app.

It seems to me that Facebook is taking a similar approach to Google. Google started out as a search engine company, then began to add News, Images, they purchased YouTube for videos, implemented Gmail for email and took over Android for mobile devices. Google is almost omnipresent on the Internet, and it looks like Facebook is heading in the same direction.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

A New Addition to the Family...

       Back in the day, it was normal to say that most houses had a piano.  Or a pet.  Or night table with a lamp.  But now, it seems we're on the road to having just your run of the mill personal family robot.  This robot named 'Jibo' talks to you like a person.  It gives you friendly reminders, can turn things on and off, take pictures, read to children, and perform many other hands-free commands.  But is this all really necessairy?
       Sure, its convienent.  But with the amount of technological items we have that take over tasks we used to perform on our own, do we really need more?  We already have everything that this robot can do right on our phones in the palm of our hands.  Why do we need to spend hundreds of dollars on the same product in a different shape?
       Also, since when does having a robot read to your kids sound appealing?  You should want to read to your own child.   I don't see a point in having kids if you don't want to take the time to raise them.  We keep looking for answers with things we can make.  But what we should be working out is what we can fix within all of us as a society first.   There's really not much else you can say about this robot in reference to its specifications because they don't really exceed what many other standard devices today can do.  We are funding this project that people are already lined up to order it and I truly do not understand why.  There are bigger issues we could be focusing on, raising money for, and spending time on.  At what point are we crossing the line here?

Oil assholes

I recently watched an awesome Vice episode that did a story on the major drought in Texas. This drought has become extremely detrimental in the past 5 years and it is starting to have an extremely negative effect of local industry. Texas, specifically the western region, used to produce most of its revenue through agricultural means. Cattle farms and grain farm have been the heart and soul of Texas farms for centuries. Recently, farmers have been forced to sell their cattle and land due to this extreme lack of water. Yes, Texas has always deep a dry state, but there used to be means of transporting water to their farms from states in the north. There has been an extreme standby in the purchasing of water due to the Oil companies demand. Oil companies have been purchasing major amounts of transported water so they can execute there "fracking Process".

"Hydraulic fracturing (also hydrofracturinghydrofrackingfracking or fraccing), is a well-stimulation technique in which rock is fractured by a hydraulically pressurized liquid made of water, sand, and chemicals. Some hydraulic fractures form naturally—certain veins or dikes are examples.[1] A high-pressure fluid (usually chemicals and sand suspended in water) is injected into a wellbore to create cracks in the deep-rock formations through which natural gaspetroleum, and brine will flow more freely. When the hydraulic pressure is removed from the well, small grains of hydraulic fracturing proppants (either sand or aluminium oxide) hold the fractures open."

Oil companies have essentially bought up all of the available water, leaving the farmers to die out. The question is raised; "Why doesn't the government put a limit to the amount of water oil companies purchase, to allow the farmers to continue growing?". The answer lies deep within the political system of Texas. Unfortunately, the oil lobby in Texas is too strong. They have been supporting the Republican party for years, and they have been given a pass in return. This truly bothers me, knowing that farming is the heart and soul of many of our countries industries. People have been loosing their farms which have been owned by their families for centuries because they are just unable to purchase water.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

TimeHop- The Historic Gratitude Journal?

TimeHop is a cool app. If you haven't gotten it, it's definitely worth a look. The idea is that you connect all your social media stuff to the app, and every day it will dig up all your old posts from that specific day of the year. It goes as far back as it can.

One thing I think is really neat is the fact that when I check my TimeHop for things I've posted prior to 2015 I'm often left thinking, "Funny. I was just thinking about that earlier today." Maybe my mind is just a seasonal thing, or maybe time really is cyclical. That's a point for a later date.

Another thing that fascinates me is that I can track what I thought was important to share with the world at any given time. Six years ago, my post from a couple days ago was, "Natalie Barillaro just finished her history paper! Time for some cookies." Now all I post are memes and photos of fortune cookies and shameless promotions for the Dramatic Society (Come see the show! 4/9-4-11 at DeBaun!!).

In 2015, the essay post probably wouldn't have existed unless there were some extraordinary circumstances surrounding the completion of that history paper. Perhaps in 2015 it would look something like, "I sat down to write my history paper, but half of Stevens was on fire. Put the fire out, still handed my paper in before the deadline #yourewelcome."  (Yes, hashtag included).

I feel foolish when I see my posts from the 2009-2011 era (I call them the Dark Years). They were stupid and uninformative to everyone else reading them in the moment. But you know what? In a way, 2015 Natalie is kind of glad that they exist. Back before we knew what to do with social media, we were content to share the dumbest, simplest things with the rest of the world because they were important to us, or because they made us happy. Now most of us know that our primary function on social media is to serve as entertainment for our vast circle(s) of friends, so that's lost on us. I look back in my TimeHop and I find a small gratitude journal. I had cookies on March 23, 2009. I went for a really nice walk the day before. The weather turned nice and I took a picture of the clouds a few days ago in 2010.

So what have I learned? I want to start writing down all the small things that happen to me daily, but not on Facebook where everyone will see and no one will care. If only there was an anti-social media network where I could post all the little things only I cared about. And then I could integrate it with TimeHop and relive these tiny happy things forever.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

If you don't Snap it? Did it happen?

Remember when vacations were getaways?  When you wouldn't see or talk to people for an extended period, then when you got back people might have actually cared about where you went and what you did?  Those were the good ol' days.
The annual hiatus of education that is Spring Break just passed and while the time away was appreciated I kept kicking myself when I was still glued to my phone.  Sure the 80+ degree weather in Florida made going on my phone a little nicer, but I did not fly down with some of my best friends just to talk to people who weren't there with me.  More disturbing though is I wasn't the only one; my friends, others on the beach, and yes people on my social networks were doing the same as me.  It seems more and more that an experience isn't complete anymore if you don't Tweet, Instagram, or Snapchat it as it happens, and forget the seemingly now obligatory mass posting of photos on Facebook post trip.

Understandably these companies are going to promote these kind of activities, but some of these advertisements are cleverly disguised.   Snapchat for instance, only a few months ago added what they called "Live" Stories which are curated Snapchat Stories that are organized by the company, combining many users' Stories into a video anyone with the app can watch.  To be honest I have loved watching them, they focus on events like College Football or Music Festivals, and would't you know it they had a Spring Break story that lasted all week and that is when I realized the inspiration for them.  By showing you short peaks into strangers lives, they have formed the most streamlined form of jealousy yet; 1) I wanted to do everything that I saw those strangers doing in the videos and 2) you are damn sure that I was going to Snapchat about it when I did.  This new feature wasn't done to entertain the user, it was done to inspire them to use it more.  In my last blog I talked about how the internet and its users are some of the best forms of advertising for products and companies now, but Snapchat went above that and made one of its core entertainment offerings an advertisement.

So it's not the worst that the conversation for this next week isn't going to be "What'd you do over Spring Break?' but rather "How was Florida?", but the real problem will be when my honest response can't completely dismiss that sometimes I just used my phone with nicer scenery.