Apple & The Magic of NFC

on Monday, Sep. 8th

The speculation engines have been set to maximum across the tech Internet as all eyes turn towards the Flint Center for the Performing Arts in Cupertino, where Apple will make what everyone assumes will be an historic product announcement.

Historic because this is the same theatre where the original Mac itself was unveiled back in 1984, and the company has built a large temporary structure next door to the venue for the event.

The assumption on everyone’s lips is that Apple will unveil both a new iPhone and the long rumored “iWatch,” both of which are said to use Near Field Communication technology, or NFC. The killer app for NFC? Mobile payments, specifically frictionless point of sale transactions.

While payments have gotten all of the ink, that’s just one of the magical uses of NFC. We could be in store for a lot more surprises, starting with toys.


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Seven Things To Know About The Future of Immersive Entertainment

on Friday, Sep. 5th



1. (of a computer display or system) generating a three-dimensional image that appears to surround the user. Source: Google.

Immersive. The word pops up in conversations about entertainment with as much frequency as “engagement.” While the definition is tied to its roots as techno-jargon in the cyberdelic 90s, its popularity comes from the fact that the meaning has grown beyond those roots.

Facebook’s acquisition of virtual reality start-up Oculus VR earlier this year put the word back in the mouths of the mainstream press, and this week Samsung announced the Gear VR head mounted display adapter for their next generation phone. Another use of the term is tied to immersive theater productions like the long-running Sleep No More in New York City.

Whether in virtual or flesh and blood reality, the singular goal of an immersive experience is to suspend disbelief so totally that the audience gets wrapped up in the world around them to the exclusion of any other.

What follows is a primer, of sorts, on what the future of immersive media will look like.


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Samsung Hits The Accelerator on the VR Age With Gear VR

on Wednesday, Sep. 3rd

A couple of weeks back I watched the vice president of content for Jaunt VR—makers of a revolutionary live action video camera for virtual reality—hint at the imminent arrival of a consumer VR device. Jaunt and New Deal Studios would be releasing a short WWII themed film made with the camera this fall, and that meant people would need to able to watch it on something, after all.

There was no way that Sony was fast-tracking Morpheus, and all signs pointed Oculus VR’s first consumer product needing until 2015 to be ready. Google has the DODOcase Cardboard kit already available, but that thing is more like a Viewmaster on steroids than a fully realized VR device.

Which left one suspect in the room: Samsung, and their rumored “Gear VR.” Today the South Korean manufacturer came clean: they will be unleashing the Gear VR, a headset adapter for the forthcoming Galaxy Note 4 phone. The kicker: the software running the Gear VR is from Oculus.


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The Dumbest Case Against Games Journalists You’ll Ever Hear

on Thursday, Aug. 28th

WARNING: Contains Opinions. (Oh no!)

When I look at what the culture of gaming has become this summer I recoil in disgust. The worst excesses of geekdom, wherein the bullied become the bullies, have been on display.

The most hideous form of this has been what’s happened to developer Zoe Quinn and feminist cultural critic Anita Sarkeesian in the past two weeks. Quinn was doxed as part of a revenge campaign begun by an ex-boyfriend. Sarkeesian was driven out of her home by threats of violence against her and her family.

Quinn’s story has splintered into a ranging discussion about journalistic ethics in the gaming enthusiast press, even though no one has been able to show that an ethical breach occurred. The problem is that the accusations of unethical behavior found an all too willing audience: gamers just don’t trust the enthusiast press.


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Something Wicked Heads To Social Media: ‘Project: Alibi’

on Tuesday, Aug. 26th

The spooky season is almost upon us, and that means its time for storytellers of all stripes to try and scare our socks off.

Such is the plan behind what’s currently called Project: Alibi, a mulit-platform ghost story from a pair of transmedia luminaries who are working together for the first time.


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The Good And Bad Memes In #Ferguson Race Conversations

Rafael Johns on Friday, Aug. 22nd

A friend of mine launched a depressing conversation recently, and asked me how much I think he is worth. When I asked for clarification, he pointed to a candy bar and said, “Like, am I worth as much as a candy bar? Or am I worth a Play Station? What would it take for killing me to be excusable?”

These are the sort of conversations young people of color like me who aren’t in Ferguson, Missouri are having. We wonder about how objects, like the bag of Skittles in Trayvon Martin’s hands and the box of cigarettes that might have been in Michael Brown’s, can justify the murder of kids who look so much like us.

In Ferguson, Missouri, the execution of an unarmed black teenager has been followed by police action, rioting, and a ban on aircraft above the city. While large media outlets pick at facts and autopsies, people all over social media are tackling deeper aspects of the issues, like self worth.

My dashboard on Tumblr is flooded with messages about what’s happening. They range from messages of fear and concern to people sharing information on how we can help those on the ground and in danger. Over Twitter, I see images spread daily of protesters walking with their hands above their heads, getting tear gassed, and sometimes even shot. One of the most powerful trends I’m seeing is the #IfTheyGunnedMeDown hashtag campaign.


Each image is powerful, because it asks a serious question. How does the media portray the victims of police violence, who are all too often young black and Latino men?  And how does that factor into the discussion of race in America?

Still, that power hasn’t resonated with everyone. Some have turned this social discussion into a meme, throwing in images of animals and pictures where they are dressed up in a “thuggish” way.


I don’t find these images funny at all. The people posting them are using so-called humor to derail a conversation lots of white people aren’t comfortable with. I was excited to see young black people having a conversation about the media’s portrayal of youth murdered by the police. The attempts at humor felt invasive. Even though Twitter exists in cyberspace, which is open to everyone, I wish people would remain respectful when a conversation, even one online, doesn’t revolve around them.

But there is a strong voice on the internet justifying this meme saying, essentially, “If you don’t put incriminating pictures online, you won’t get portrayed in a way you don’t want to be.”

screen4Many people, like lissypriss (right), seem to think that if you don’t want pictures of yourself dressed in baggy clothes, carrying an airsoft gun, or looking disorderly, taken out of context — you shouldn’t post them. And if you do, then those posts can and will be used against you.

To me, that idea is ludicrous. Often, we don’t have much control over what pictures of us are online. Young people in particular are tagged in a million things on Facebook. But it’s this sort of attitude coming from people, including older people of color, that if you don’t step out of line and you act “appropriately,” this wouldn’t even be an issue.

It’s Respectability Politics at its core. There’s a very prevalent viewpoint in American culture that in order for a person to be worth something, they must always follow a certain code of conduct in order to fully achieve human status. Typically, these behaviors follow the narrowly defined puritanical ideas of majority culture. In other words, the “whiter” one acts, the more human they become.

As a teenager, making it through my daily life is hard enough just trying to figure out how to grow into an adult who can support myself. But while I share that experience with my white friends, very few of them have to think about what they are worth, what they’re wearing, and what they have in their pockets before even stepping outside of their homes. I am, as Obama referred in his speech on Monday, both an object of fear, and the one who is afraid of being held up to a ridiculous code of conduct.

It is my sincere hope that projects like #IfTheyGunnedMeDown can change that. Social media, if used respectfully, can bring up social and cultural issues and help people understand them. And understanding and empathizing with another person’s problems is the first step towards changing things for people of color like me. And sometimes, that means thinking twice before you post — or recognizing when it’s better not to say anything at all.

Something that Twitter user rupturedveins seems to understand:

For more on respectability politics, check out The Root’s coverage here.

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Copyright Marisa Allegra Williams (@marisa) for Twitter, Inc.

Censorship & Trolls: The Battle For Twitter’s Soul

on Friday, Aug. 22nd

It feels slightly ridiculous to talk about Twitter being in a state of crisis while the world falls apart, but the social media network has become the main artery for news around the world. Which means that a broken Twitter helps to foster a broken world.

Not only do headlines and links spread across the service in 140 characters, but actual news is reported directly in places as far apart as Ferguson, Missouri and the Gaza Strip as reporters, citizen journalists, and ordinary citizens alike on the scene deliver brief dispatches in real time.

Which means that Twitter’s decision to suspend some accounts linking to the video of execution of journalist James Foley this week set off warning bells for journalists like Glenn Greenwald.


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You’ll Believe A Geek Can Fly–Virtual Reality in LA

on Tuesday, Aug. 19th

This past weekend in Sylmar, a neighborhood in the far north end of Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley, a few hundred curious nerds descended upon New Deal Studios, a production company and special effects house who played host to the latest Virtual Reality Los Angeles event.

Companies on the cutting edge of the virtual reality scene—from Oculus VR to Sony and a host of smaller companies in between—showed off their latest wares. Some of it is consumer-ready, while other companies are essentially giving sneak peaks at what they believe will be the future of entertainment.

If the flying simulation I got to play with at the start of the event is any indication, they just might be right.


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Amazon Joins Mobile Payment Game, But Have They Lost The Magic Touch?

on Thursday, Aug. 14th

Once upon a time it seemed that Amazon could have been destined to be that rare company that could do no wrong.

With a singular focus on providing the best value for consumers the company conquered the book selling market, forcing one major retailer, Borders, out of business and putting the other big national chain, Barnes & Noble, on the ropes.

The past few years have seen Amazon spreading its wings into making a wide variety of hardware: e-readers, tablets, and recently phones and set-top boxes. All of this to create a seamless distribution chain for digital content. Yet with every foray into new territory Amazon has come up against established competitors who have been able to deliver more polished user experiences. The ability to deliver content on the cheap hasn’t turned into big buzz.

This week Amazon entered another messy market: the contentious mobile payment space. They’ve brought their usual tactic–undercutting the competitors on price–but they’re entering the game at a turbulent time, one that may prove to be too late to make the impact the increasingly under pressure to be profitable company needs.


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Robots and The Case For Basic Income

on Tuesday, Aug. 12th

Buckle up, because we’re headed for the future, and it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Last week the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project released a report on “AI, Robotics, and the Future of Jobs,” and the basic conclusion is this: the droids are coming for your job. The idea that we are facing a robo-sourcing wave is perhaps less surprising than a proposal  that a few notable economic thinkers are honing in on: Basic Universal Income.

Before we go there, let’s dig into the Pew report. First the good news: drudgery is going bye-bye and technology usually creates new jobs to replace the ones that are lost. Yet the “reasons to be concerned” section that follows the upside is more than a little heavy:

  • Impacts from automation have thus far impacted mostly blue-collar employment; the coming wave of innovation threatens to upend white-collar work as well.
  • Certain highly-skilled workers will succeed wildly in this new environment—but far more may be displaced into lower paying service industry jobs at best, or permanent unemployment at worst.
  • Our educational system is not adequately preparing us for work of the future, and our political and economic institutions are poorly equipped to handle these hard choices.

As former Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers put it in an Op-Ed for the Wall Street Journal last month, “the economic challenge of the future will not be producing enough. It will be providing enough good jobs.”

That’s the nice way of putting it.


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The Good And Bad Memes In #Ferguson Race Conversations

A friend of mine launched a depressing conversation recently, and asked me how much I think he is worth.



Amazon Joins Mobile Payment Game, But Have They Lost The Magic Touch?

Once upon a time it seemed that Amazon could have been destined to be that rare company that could do no wrong.


Augmented Reality: German Firm Shows Off Touch Based UI

We seem to be on a collision course with wearable computing.


Will VR’s Killer App Make You Sick?

Polygon’s Ben Kuchera has a close-in look at the design philosophy going into Eve: Valkyrie, the “killer app” for virtual reality systems.

Image: Rachel I. Berman (Alice); Publicity image by Darial Sneed for Then She Fell.

Immersive Cinema And The Age of Voxelpunk

In the wake of the Facebook acquisition of Oculus VR the issue of the future of virtual reality beyond games has stepped into the media spotlight.