Category: alternative

BdyHax 2017 Top of Mind

I was, what we call in Texas, “dog sick” this past weekend. Likely the result of 2 straight weeks of travel + weather changes + being-around-recently-sick-people.

bdyhax-4But that didn’t keep me from getting over to the Austin Convention Center for a 45-minute walk through of the  exhibits at the 2nd Annual Bodyhacking conference, Jan 27-29.

I was intrigued when I heard about the conference a year ago from my Austin tech colleague Christopher Calicott of Trammell Ventures, to the point which I volunteered to serve in a modest capacity on the Advisory Board.

It was an attempt to bring together a range of products, services & technologies which on first blush seemed unrelated or modestly related at best. Things like tattooing, body art, implantable medical devices (think pacemakers),

…AND lifestyle sensors (think Ethereum– or NFC-enabled), 3D printing, machine/human prosthetics, cognitive-targeted nutrition,

bdyhax-1…AND wearable art/haute coutre, AR and VR, all-things-wearable (Fitbits, Apple watches, etc.) and more!

But, the more you think about these categories, and especially extend them into the future, beyond what you know or see today, the more you begin to see how the case can be made for pulling them all together into a single, conference program, unified around the “future self” — what’s inside us, on us, around us, etc.

Here’s what caught my eye, during my walkthrough:

bdyhax-2Fashion: the garments on display seemed to make a big tip of the hat to the iconic work of the Dutch designer Iris van Herpen, which just finished a smashing run in the U.S. at the Grand Rapids Art Museum!

Haptics everywhere: back in 2010, I wrote about haptic tech being the “next communications breakthrough” and, to some extent, many of the products I saw told me that my hunch remains on target. Products on display from Somatic Labs, Neosensory, Omius, and Brainport were all examples of processing various sensory (e.g., visual or audio signals), environmental, or other data sources by translating and conveying  them in “touch” on the wrist, on the upper body, etc.

In particular, take a look at the Moment, by Somatic Labs. In addition to experimenting with the initial apps they are releasing, the team plans to provide access to the device via a set of developer-friendly APIs. I think it will be fascinating to see what developers might do, especially when you start thinking about platforms like Slack or IFTTT.

BTW: you can get an additional $20 discount on the Moment with pre-orders by using the promo code: BDYHAX.

bdyhax-3VR and AR inescapability: They (as well as AI and “big data”) are the darling of this decade. At the moment, a lot of experimentation going on — definitely akin to social media 1.0 products from 10+ years ago, with playfulness and creativity remaining a big VR theme.

As a counterpoint, I’m eager to see what VR and AR demos Capital Factory rolls out in its new first floor expansion space, expected around SXSW 2017, two months hence — it should be epic and, I’m betting, more balanced between work and play apps.

So, those are my top-of-mind observations from 2017. Much, much more to come, no doubt, in this fascinating, poly-product tech marketspace.

Four Gourgeous Dillard Excerpts

dillard-for-the-time-beingI read a lot. Weekly trips to the public library are my substitute for the farmers market runs of others.

It used to be, when I chose and checked out a book, that I felt an obligation to read the whole thing. Probably  a common trait among many boomers, whose parents were children of the great depression and, thus, felt compelled to finish anything given to them, whether a serving of luke-warm peas or a library book.

But, as an adult, I began to exercise discretion and began making quicker judgments about likes and dislikes in my book selections. Now, I’ll quit a book 10 pages in, 100 pages in…occasionally, when I simply grow tired of the subject, 3 or 4 days after the initial infatuation that moved me to check it out.

Perhaps this is why, when I find a book and author that I really enjoy, I latch onto their words that much more ravenously. This is the case, this year, with the writer Annie Dillard. Her book – For The Time Being – was a joy to read. Here are four excerpts, vividly described, which I hope will give you a glimpse of what the book offers. Enjoy!

#1

serinus_canaria_lc0210Today is one of those excellent January partly cloudies in which light chooses an unexpected part of the landscape to trick out in gilt, and then shadow sweeps it away.

You know you’re alive. You take huge steps, trying to feel the planet’s roundness arc between your feet.

Kazantzakis says that when he was young he had a canary and a globe. When he freed the canary, it would perch on the globe and sing. All his life, wandering the earth, he felt as though he had a canary on top of his head, singing.

#2

KODAK Digital Still Camera
KODAK Digital Still Camera

Certain Indians used to carve long grooves along the wooden shafts of the arrows. They called the grooves “lightning marks,” because they resembled the curved fissure lightning slices down the trunks of trees.

The function of lightning marks is this: If the arrow fails to kill the game, blood from a deep wound will channel along the lightning mark, streak down the arrow shaft, and spatter to the ground, laying a trail dripped on broad leaves, on stones, that the barefoot and trembling archer can follow into whatever deep or rare wilderness it leads.

I am the arrow shaft, carved along my length by unexpected lights and gashes from the very sky, and this book is the straying trail of blood.

#3

1990-issue_us_penny_obverse_2It is dire poverty indeed when a man is so hungry and tired that he won’t stoop to pick up a penny.

But if you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days.

It is that simple. What you see is what you get.

#4

Peeping through my keyhole I see within the range of only about 30 percent of the light that comes from the sun; the rest is infrared and some little ultraviolet, perfectly apparent to many animals, but invisible to me.

total_internal_reflectionAs for what I do see, a nightmare network of ganglia, charged and firing without my knowledge, cuts and splices it, editing it for my brain.

Donald E. Carr points out that the sense impressions of one-celled animals are not edited for the brain: “This is philosophically interesting in a rather mournful way, since it means that only the simplest animals perceive the universe as it really is.”

This Is My Family

family 1

Not long ago, I read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book Between the World and Me.

If you haven’t read it, I recommend that you do. Chances are, you won’t truly understand it. But, hopefully, it will leave a mark on your memory, that causes you to remember singular images and phrases, as I did.

I won’t say much about it, other than to say the narrative device is that of a father’s extended letter to his son.

What I will mention is the depiction of the Dream that Coates writes about, as a central construct of the book. There are people (the “Dreamers”) who live their lives in total unquestioned, unthinking immersion in the Dream.

coates bookThen there are people who live their lives outside the Dream, or perhaps better said: excluded from the Dream. Perhaps, even better, threats to the Dream.

Shortly after I read the book, I had a dream inspired by the book. I dreamed that I awoke one morning to find that every black person was white and every white person was black.

As a newly transformed black man, living in Austin, you can imagine the scene I encountered going to work that day. Overnight, downtown Austin was transformed into a city that much more resembled downtown Atlanta or Memphis.

More remarkable was how I was treated, in my dream. All of a sudden, I felt an attitude that was colder, less helpful, more suspicious towards me. People took a slightly wider berth walking by me on the street.

Servers seemed a little slower to ask me for my order or if I needed help at the store. Was I just imagining it, or was this overnight change in how I felt real?

And then, I began to think about who I was…nothing about me had changed — I was the same person in every way — except that my skin was now black. My skin pigment was darker >> that was it!

Yet, as my dream leaped ahead (as REM-sleep dreams are wont to do), I began to experience discrimination, from the petty (name calling) to the significant, like being denied job interviews, passed over for leadership roles, getting fewer financial and VIP privileges than my white peers.

family 2

And, as I looked ahead – and backwards – I saw the accumulation of this discrimination across generations of my family. From the non-violent injustice of exclusion from schools, communities, and social groups, to the violence of confrontation, struggle, and crime.

Often, the violence was wrought by the desperate and those lost of hope of the same color skin as their closest neighbors, because they were nearest and easiest to rob.

And, the whole picture seemed so ridiculous to me. It seemed such a preposterous thing — that the color of one’s skin was the thing that triggered this generations-long, no, this millennia-long dividing of the powerful and the powerless.

It made no sense; there was no justification. Logic yes, in a perverse way, as a contest to get and keep power. But justice — as represented by life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, the promise that all people are created equal — no.

And, in my dream, I finally began to develop a new awareness of the profound, unholy, and completely immoral unfairness of it all. This new, internal knowledge of what others deemed my “place” in life, and that of my family’s, was totally, comprehensively unacceptable.

I awoke and shared my dream with Rebecca. And, I thought about the Dream. And, I thought about members of my family who live in the Dream — both the black and white members of my family.

family 3Because, you see, the photos in this post are members of my family — my real family. They are my nephews, nieces, brothers, and cousins through marriage.

They are Larry, Lindsey, Shani, Logan, Harper, Ryan, Lori, Maya, and more!

They are smart, talented, strong, beautiful, funny, hard-working, loyal, trustworthy, silly and fun!

I love them and am thankful to be in the same family together.

I know that no amount of dreaming on my part, nor clearing away the real life miasma of the Dream that Coates writes of, can ever help me fully comprehend a life of fundamental unfairness.

Of being born the wrong color…or the wrong caste, tribe, gender, nationality — or any other irrational, inequitable “wrong” that absolutely lacks any connection to the true, the holy, the righteous.

So, I’ll leave you with this one question. Ask yourself: “Who is my family?”

UT-Austin CAET Gives Us Some STEAM

UT Ctr for Art and Ent Tech (CAET)I attended the launch event for UT-Austin’s Center for Arts & Entertainment Technology this evening. The Center (or CAET) is a new program of the College of Fine Arts.

As Dean of Fine Arts, Doug Dempster explained, it’s been a few years in the making. But, now that it’s here, the CAET figures to quickly become a significant magnet for UT-Austin’s Fine Arts school.

Why? Because, the CAET’s new Bachelor of Science degree in Arts & Entertainment is the quintessential Gen Z major.

It is the true expression of STEAM – Science Technology Engineering & Math (or STEM) education, with the fundamental integration of Arts, be it performing, visual, digital, or more.

Congratulations to Dean Dempster, Bruce Pennycook (the CAET Director), long-time Austin colleague Paul Toprac (Assoc Dir of Game Design & Dev at UT-Austin), and all of the other faculty and staff for the program.

I, for one, look forward to vetting some of the first crop of BS in AET students, in 2017 and 2018, for internships with our new ventures…the CAET program is fine-tuned to produce future great product, tech strategy, and creative directors, ready to unleash some innovation on the world – can’t wait!

David Bowie – Bond Genius

Before I get to the “bond genius” part of the title, a personal moment, to share my 3 Bowie favorites:

Diamond_dogsAlbum: Diamond Dogs – nothing like it. On first listen, it’s nearly repelling, in its unconventional musicianship and song-writing. But, listen closely and play it again, and the whole thing starts to become absolutely mesmerizing – an other-worldly lyrical vision and sound.

Song: Rebel, Rebel – ironically, the “hit” from Diamond Dogs. The irony is from the fact that the song sounds nothing like the rest of the album. Being over 40 years old, the track is far lesser-known to the Gen X and Y kids. It gets lost because it’s sandwiched in between the original Ziggy tracks and the latter-day, far better known Let’s Dance tracks. But, for my money, Rebel, Rebel is one of the most hard-charging rock-and-roll riffs of all time.

Video: Heroes – just watch…

bowie - backyardLive: The Backyard, Austin TX, April 27, 2004 – An amazing night. The Austin Chronicle’s review is on target, but of course comes up short with being able to capture the magic of the night.

Bowie was “on” and the crowd ate it up, me included. He and the band delivered the perfect set list. A night and a concert performance I’ll never forget.

* * *

Ok, now for the “bond genius” part. For this, I have to give full credit to one of my new favorite, morning newsletters, Quartz. I recommend that you check it out. It’s become part of my morning routine, with multiple round-the-clock issues available to be sent to your email. I get the early morning edition that hits my inbox around 5am.

This past weekend, they editors did a marvelous intro to the daily edition, talking about Bowie’s forward-thinking, on multiple levels. I really can’t improve on what they wrote, so I’m citing it here, in full – all credit (copyright) goes to Quartz. (Keep up the good work, Team Quartz!)

“If you ever doubted that David Bowie was from the future, consider how Ziggy Stardust clairvoyantly shorted the music industry.bowie - new yorker

The late musician was always internet savvy—he started his own ISP way back in the AOL days, and was among the first artists to offer a downloadable album, just when Napster was starting to scare the bejesus out of the record labels.

His insight into digital music led him to predict the internet’s disruption of the music industry and cash out early. Back in 1997, he created an entirely new financial instrument: “Bowie bonds” were essentially a bet against the recorded-music business, providing the musician a $55 million payout, secured by future royalties from his enormous back catalog.

”Music itself is going to become like running water or electricity,” he told the New York Times in 2002. “The absolute transformation of everything that we ever thought about music will take place within 10 years, and nothing is going to be able to stop it. So it’s like, just take advantage of these last few years because none of this is ever going to happen again.”

In 1999, global music industry revenues were $14.6 billion; by 2009, they were only $6.3 billion. The entire offering of Bowie bonds was sold to Prudential Securities, which didn’t turn out to be very prudent: The 10-year bonds were eventually downgraded to junk status as music sales, including Bowie’s back catalog, evaporated.

Not all of Bowie’s predictions came true: He also told the Times that copyright itself was doomed. Due to the lobbying prowess of major media companies, copyright protection is stronger than ever—not that it has helped musicians much.

Streaming music services like Spotify pay out tiny fractions of a penny for every song played, making most professional musicians dependent on touring and other revenue streams. (Bowie predicted that too.)

Incidentally, the banker who helped to create Bowie bonds is now securitizing the royalty streams of one-hit wonders like Right Said Fred, the luminaries behind “I’m Too Sexy.”

RIP, Starman.”

RIP, indeed. Carpe diem, my friends.

I Want An App That [Changes The World]

It’s New Year’s Day 2016. And, in the spirit of this symbolic fresh start, I’ll offer a perspective for a fresh start to problem selection for software. Stay with me here…it gets less geeky…

A few weeks ago, as I was browsing my twitter feed, my eyes fixed upon a rapid series of tweets by a tech writer/speaker named Scott Berkun.

I’ll confess, I’ve never read any of Berkun’s books, nor heard him speak. But, he was among the earlier people I followed on twitter and I’ve enjoyed many of his posts since.

Anyhow, I’ve captured the series of tweets below, because they got me thinking about a topic that I would normally dismiss as bordering on nonsensical. (NOTE: the best way to read them is to scroll to the bottom and then read to the top.)

They first appeared as one of those rants that you sometimes see people fire off, due to anger, frustration, sadness, etc. So, when I read the first couple, my internal dismissive voice said “yeah, right.”

It was quickly followed by my internal logical voice which said “technology is just a tool; those kinds of changes only happen due to the actions of people.”

But then, a third, internal voice of challenge said “but, wait a second; why can’t we demand of our tools that they contribute in a substantial way to these kinds of desirable social changes?”

As the rant illustrates at the beginning (bottom): too often, our design & development efforts are focused on improving the speed or effectiveness of imperfect solutions to problems.

Or, they are focused on applying an “X of Y” adaptation (i.e., the “Airbnb of parking spaces”).

But, we tend to think that problems concerning social innovation and behavioral change are outside of the province of technology. When, perhaps instead, that’s the next frontier of app development.

So, as you plan out your 2016 today and in the coming days, think about how you can help bring to life an app that can change the world.

berkun rant