Unleash The Kraken! Squids Hold Secrets Of Cybertech (Maybe)

on Tuesday, Jul. 22nd

Advancements in prosthetics–like the DEKA Arm which was recently approved by the Federal Drug Administration– and machine vision (think: Google Cars) seem to finally pushing us towards the cybernetic future that made 1980s action movies so badass.

Yet the recent breakthroughs are still a far cry from the science fiction fever dreams of Gen X’s youth. Which prompts the question: why has it taken this long into the 21st century to see this technology come to the fore? Well it turns out that there are some deep differences in how biological and artificial systems deal with electricity. Check out the lead paragraph of a recent article at Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News:

The electrical activity of living organisms and human-made devices evidence a fundamental mismatch. Living organisms transmit electrical messages by moving positive charges, protons, and positively charged ions such as calcium and sodium. Human-made devices—retinal implants, nerve stimulators, and pacemakers—rely on negatively charged electrons.

So there’s our culprit: machines and mankind just don’t speak the same electrical code. Since we’re not going to rewire human DNA to better suit machines–not yet, anyway–the solution for the cybernetic divide will have to happen on the artificial side of things. Which is exactly what that GE&BN article is about.

Scientists at the University of California, Irvine have found a way to use a naturally occurring protein from pencil squid to create an electrically conductive material that transmits protons efficiently. This could–could, mind you–lead to a whole class of electrically conductive material and devices that interact directly with human biology.

Will it lead to half-men, half-machines who are all cop? Probably not.

All squid, maybe.

Source: Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News via Popular Science

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Ambitious Xbox Project ‘Quantum Break’ Weathers Microsoft Shake-ups

on Tuesday, Jul. 22nd

For a minute there it looked like Microsoft was throwing in the towel on anything resembling innovation on Xbox.

Kinect? Ripped from the box. Original television programming? Just for teh Haloz, thx plz.*

The priority of the Xbox division has become games, games, games. So where has that left the hybrid project Quantum Break, which looked to merge a game with episodic television content? There was no word about the title, which is being developed by Remedy the makers of the cult favorite Xbox 360 series Alan Wake, since an announcement earlier this year that it wouldn’t be shown at E3 but instead at the big European game show later in the year.

Given that some of us actually like it when console makers are insanely ambitious and willing to fail gloriously the silence has been unnerving. Polygon, thankfully, has word that the game remains on track:

“The news of Xbox Entertainment Studios has not impacted our progress and we’re excited to share more details of Quantum Break at Gamescom in August,” the statement reads.

TV/game hybrids might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but neither are an endless supply of 80s/90s retro indie games. Everything gets old after a while. While we’re all waiting for virtual reality to take off it good to know that other strange avenues of interactive entertainment are not getting ignored.

*Okay, not really, but it might as well be.

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The Political Fight Over Net Access You’re Not Hearing About

on Monday, Jul. 21st

Access to the Internet is practically seen as a basic human right amongst millennials, that’s one reason why the Federal Communications Commission is having to weed through a million comments in the wake of the political battle over Net Neutrality.

While that knife fight was going on a quieter Congressional mugging was taking place in the alley net door. In this case, as dug up by Motherboard’s Jason Koebler, the FCC are the good guys looking out for the interests of communities who are being held back by their home states.

More than 20 states have laws on the books preventing local communities from building municipal fiber networks—the FCC recently said it would help local communities preempt those laws, giving power back to small towns who know what they want better than anyone in the statehouse.

But the Rep. Marsha Blackburn’s amendment, which nearly all House Republicans voted in favor of, would make the FCC’s move illegal.

The real reason for the seemingly hypocritical opposition to the FCC’s decision is that (as you might guess) the politicians backing the legislation are in the pocket of big telecom, and those deep-pocketed companies don’t want to have to compete with anyone.

While not as link-bait worthy as the battle over Net Neutrality this political fight is a significant one. Just who should be controlling access to the Internet? Should local governments have the right to provide basic Internet services to their citizens if that’s what the citizens want?


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Seoul Declares War On Uber

on Monday, Jul. 21st

Uber–friend to upwardly mobile technoratti and drunk smartphone owners, mortal enemy of working class taxi drivers and transportation regulators everywhere–has a new arch nemesis: the city of Seoul, South Korea. The city government is looking into banning Uber as they view it as illegal under South Korean law which forbids unregistered private transportation services.

Uber, for its part, has issued a statement that says it’s just a technological platform and not a taxi service.


Here’s the kicker, from The Wall Street Journal:

The city added that it will launch in December an app that will provide similar features to Uber for official taxis, such as geo-location data on cabs nearby, information about them and their drivers, as well as ratings.

Seoul is one of the most technologically connected cities in the world, but will that translate into the city itself being able to provide an app infrastructure for related services like taxis? There’s no question that from an app UI/marketing standpoint that Uber has become the best-in-breed of hailing services. Which makes their unending protestations that they are not a taxi service all the more grating: taxi dispatchers are functionally middle men, and that’s what Uber is.

Going head to head with an app is a new trick in the war between cities and Uber, but the software maker almost certainly has the upper hand when it comes to design. How far will Seoul be willing to go to break the “sharing economy” poster child’s will?

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Transparency Through Design: Digital LEED Scoreboard Keeps Green Buildings Honest

on Friday, Jul. 18th

Getting a building LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) certified by the U.S. Green Business Council has become a badge of honor amongst conscientious developers. Yet the certification represents the green potential of a building while the reality can be a lot different.

Enter the legendary design firm IDEO, which along with the U.S. Green Business Council has developed a dynamic digital scoreboard to showcase a building’s current LEED score. Fast Co.Design’s Heba Hasan has the details:

The plaque acts like a visual scoreboard. It tracks how a building performs in five categories: energy, waste, transportation, water, and human experience. Owners can compare their building’s current and past performance and can examine the building’s overall performance relative to comparable structures. Additionally, they can enter the building’s performance data into the USGBC’s online interface as frequently as they want–but the USGBC will require owners to submit building data at least once a year.

There’s plans in the works for the score to be broadcast via Bluetooth so that passerby can snag the data via their smartphones.

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GoTenna: The Perfect Smartphone Accessory For Disaster Relief & Criminals!

on Friday, Jul. 18th

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy designer Daniela Perdomo had a vision for a device that would allow for people to text in other in the wake of a disaster. What she wound up with might just be the next hot smartphone accessory. Wired Design has the scoop:

GoTenna is part disaster relief, part slick smartphone accessory that Perdomo created with the help of Brooklyn-based design firm Pensa (before goTenna, Perdomo worked at a string of New York-based software startups). It’s a five-inch aluminum and nylon device that pairs with a fairly basic iPhone or Android messaging app. When users lose service, rather than scurry around in search of bars, they can instead open that app to text other goTenna users. Texts first get sent to the native goTenna device over Bluetooth LE, where—thanks to the circuit board, radio chips, and antennae hidden within—the gadget piggybacks onto radio frequencies to transmit an analog version of the message to the receiving user.

GoTenna is being marketed not just as a disaster relief device, but as a tool that can be used on camping trips, at busy festivals, and even to keep law enforcement off your back. These points are made in a rather ham-handed fashion in the promotional video for the device (seriously, it’s terrible) but the value proposition is solid. GoTenna is currently being offered for pre-order in pairs: $150 for two of the antennas, but they don’t need to be paired up in order to get a user on the adhoc network. The retail price target is $300 for two, which puts the device firmly into the price range of the REI shoppers, Coachella ticket buyers, and people who need to stay off the grid they are marketing to.

(I honestly can’t believe they are so baldly marketing this to drug dealers.)

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xbox originals

Microsoft Pulls Plug On Xbox Originals-What’s Left Of The Original Plan?

on Thursday, Jul. 17th

To say that the first year of Microsoft’s new Xbox One console has been something of a disaster might be an understatement.

The original roll-out of the machine touted it as an “All in One” entertainment system that would bring gaming and original video content under the umbrella of a state of the art user interface that ran on voice commands. A complex digital rights management scheme was going to enable digital sharing of games while trying to undermine the power of the used game market, long a thorn in the side of game publishers.

With today’s announcement that Microsoft will be shuttering the year-old Xbox Entertainment Studios, which was charged with creating Netflix-style original programming involving both the companies existing gaming intellectual properties and new content, the old vision for the Xbox One has been committed to the dustbin of history.

What’s left?


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Is the world ready for a video game about slavery?

on Thursday, Jul. 17th

Speaking about Miguel Oliveira’s Thralled using the language of video games can be difficult.

Thralled is an interactive experience about a runaway slave in 18th century Brazil who becomes traumatized over the disappearance of her baby boy,” Oliveira told me as we met in the University of Southern California’s Doheny Memorial Library in the week leading up to this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo. “So the whole experience is about going through a historic representation of her memories and trying to find out what happened to the kid.”

With Thralled, Oliveira is at the forefront of a growing movement among emerging game designers to create experiences that go far beyond the highly polished shooters and retro classic homages that take up the bulk of gamers’ mindshare. It’s a movement emerging from the recently reorganized USC Games program, which has turned one of the top game design schools in the nation into the cradle of the indie games scene.

Yet Oliveira said he’s “kind of hesitant to call (Thralled) a game in the first place, because of the stigma that’s attached to the term.”


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Microsoft Sees Xbox Sales Double

on Wednesday, Jul. 16th

For month after month this year Microsoft’s Xbox One console has had the stuffing beat out of it in the sales race by Sony’s PlayStation 4. That could all change with the set of sales data from June, because Microsoft has rushed to let the gaming and tech press know that it sold twice the number of Xbox One consoles last month than it did in May.

This comes on the heels of a $100 price drop for the machine which is now unbundled from the Kinect sensor which pretty much defined the original vision for the Xbox One user experience. Now with a stripped down device and what was widely seen as a solid, if not spectacular, showing at the Electronic Entertainment Expo we might actually have a real Console War on our hands for Christmas.

We’ll all have a better idea of if this is a real fight or not based on which company does the most crowing when the NPD report for June hits tomorrow.


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Amazon Kindle Book Subscription Service Leaks

on Wednesday, Jul. 16th

Not content with owning the online book selling business all but outright, Amazon is testing a subscription service for e-books, according to files dug up by users of the Kindle Boards forum.

Dubbed “Kindle Unlimited” the service would go toe-to-toe with emerging companies like Oyster and the already established Scribd. Amazon’s service, according to the unearthed files, would have 600,000 books available and run just $9.99 a month. Which just so happens to be the sweet-spot price for e-books according to Amazon.

Consumer friendly, to say the least, and almost certain to become another weapon in the retail giant’s ongoing war on publishers.

Via GigaOm

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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.


Tribeca’s Storyscapes Returns For An Epic Second Year

The Tribeca Film Festival leapt into the vanguard of transmedia art last year with the inaugural edition of Storyscapes, an event led by TriBeCa’s Director of Digital Initiatives Ingrid Kopp.


Simple Machine Announces Micro-Festival Grants

We’ve been keeping up with Simple Machine, the independent film curation tool for festival and art house programmers, since running across their booth at South By Southwest last year.