All posts by lindsayrgwatt

Google Maps: Confusing Time & Place

One of the most incredible pieces of software developed in the past few years in Google Street View. The notion that you can use your computer to see what a neighborhood looks like is literally magic. What’s more, you can virtually drive through the neighborhood, experiencing it like a local.

I mean, a person had to drive a car to take that photo, a machine had to stitch all those photos together and it’s now available to you anywhere you can get a decent web connection.

The mind boggles.

What’s even more mind boggling to me is that sometimes your linear trip down the street turns into a trip down memory lane. As you seamlessly slide your “drive” from place to place along the street you suddenly find yourself whisked through time. Drivers change, leaves fall off trees – but more interestingly, sometimes entire cityscapes change.

A building disappears and its replacement reappears or you change an angle and suddenly there’s a construction site.

This happened to me recently looking at New York’s Astor Place.

I wanted to see the new building that’s going to house IBM’s Watson group. Here is it, looking from Astor Place & Lafayette:

Watson BuildingI drove my virtual car across Lafayette so that I could get a closer look:

Missing Building

But wait; what building is that? That yellow building wasn’t there a second ago…

Let’s drive a bit further and look backwards:

Watson Building Under ConstructionTime has shifted yet again and now we see the building under construction.

On the one hand the techie in me thinks there’s nothing interesting here: Google’s servers will update their imagery over time and eventually become consistent.

The romantic in me likes to imagine a scenario where the algorithm occasionally burps and historical images begin to appear when you least expect them. 25 years from now you’re trying to find a place on the map when suddenly a long-vanished building appears only to disappear when you turn the virtual vehicles view.

Or perhaps there’s a new feature that turns Google Maps into a virtual version of Ed Ruscha’s All The Buildings on the Sunset Strip.

He’s been going back every few years to the strip to update the photos but now Google will have done it globally on a regular basis. You’ll literally have a map of all places in the world for regular intervals since 2005.

SIM As A Service

One of the things that interests me in 2014 is whether or not T-Mobile is going to be sold. I work at a company that, among other things, runs a virtual network on top of TMUS’s network-so I’m definitely interested in what might happen.

I keep thinking though, who else might want to buy T-Mobile’s network?

The one dark horse I keep imagining is Amazon (this might be bias induced by the fact that I both live in Seattle and my wife works there-although she’d know nothing of their telecom plans).

Now, why on earth would AMZN buy TMUS?

First thought: Prime.

You could imagine a world where being a Prime customer means that your Kindle Fire comes with unlimited Prime video anywhere in North America. Ditto for Amazon music served up by the cloud. Partner with Facebook for them to make their messenger app free.

Yet another way to get people to pay $79 a year.

Plus it also facilitates the launch of a Kindle phone (which could also include a free amount of minutes/data as part of a Prime membership).

But what about existing T-Mobile customers?

Simple: make them an MVNO. Rather than converting them all to Amazon, sell the T-Mobile brand and customer base to their management team and let them run it.

But Amazon could take it further: offer SIM as a service via AWS.

Amazon could create a new category for data-driven devices that piggyback off its existing infrastructure.

Want to create a network of sensors that measure air quality across your city? No problem, just buy 500 SIMs from AWS and their pay-as-you-consume data service can be added to each unit.

Cost too much? Just call up the console to shut off a couple of units.

And data is free if you pass it inside the AWS cloud.

Amazon could literally open up an entirely new category of services and end up owning the Internet of Things – even though all they set out to do was let people watch video for free.

Let’s see what happens to TMUS.

Revoltingly Delicious

The other day I was exploring Little Saigon and found myself in a grocery store where I discovered this:

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Yes, durian is now available as jam. And it’s not your everyday breakfast experience.

When you open the jar, it’s hard not to gag as a whiff of durian greets you. It’s like someone let something rot in your kitchen.

As you spread it on your bread a bit of buyer’s remorse sets in. Why did I spend $5 on this imported crap? Is it fair to subject bread to this? Does bread have feelings?

When you go to eat your toast, you let it pause for a second above your lips and the aroma starts to trickle into the back of your throat. A gag is imminent if you don’t bite, so you take the plunge.

And the world instantly changes. A sweet, smooth flavor rolls over your tongue. And as you chew then swallow a slightly smoky sweetness lingers in your mouth.

Revolting the delicious. Revoltingly delicious. And not for everyone or everyday but a great find.

Great Science Writing

If you like science and want to read more about it, you should be reading Nautilus. And if you like Nautilus, you should subscribe to its quarterly for more unique writing.

I’m spending my Saturday morning flipping through it and there’s a beautiful essay by Caspar Henderson on the current frontiers of our knowledge.

Here are a few reminders of just how little we know:

Working memory and episodic memory are widespread among animals, as are social inclinations born of environmental pressures that favor their evolution. The distinction between cognition and emotion is also increasingly seen as a false one. Crows and other members of the corvid family have self-awareness and a theory of mind. Octopuses can solve some problems as well as 3-year-old children, not to mention perform feats of dexterity far beyond the scope of humans. Chimpanzees grieve for non-related individuals, and records of their reactions to stimuli such as a majestic waterfall and the birth of a baby chimp suggest that they may be capable of a sense of wonder.

And:

The microbiologist Lynn Margulis was rejected by about 15 leading journals before her pathbreaking paper on symbiosis was published in 1967. She argued that the complex cells of protists, plants, and animals resulted from earlier and simpler organisms merging and cooperating. The ancestors of chloroplasts and mitochondria, the organelles in plants and animal cells that provide them energy, were once free-living bacteria that larger organisms then swallowed. But instead of becoming lunch, the bacteria took up residence, like Jonah in the belly of the whale. Unlike Jonah, however, they paid for their keep by performing a new role as ‘batteries.’

Today the evidence for Margulis’s theory of endo-symbiosis, as it has become known, is overwhelming. The physician and essayist Lewis Thomas captured the essential point in an essay published in the 1970s, proposing “some biomythology.” A bestiary for modern times, he argued, should be a micro-bestiary, since microbes teach us an essential lesson: “There is a tendency for living things to join up, establish linkages, live inside each other, return to earlier arrangements, get along whenever possible.”

And finally this intriguing thought:

If extraterrestrial life does exist, how “weird” might it be? The adjective can be used in a semi-precise way to mean any life form with which, unlike everything we know of on Earth, we do not share a common ancestor. On the principle that life can evolve or endure where there is a flow of energy to be harvested, one of the most statistically likely places is in the vicinity of white dwarf stars common enough objects in the universe—where collisions with dark matter will continue to provide a steady trickle of energy until the universe is 10^25 years old, or about 10,000 trillion times long as it took life to appear on Earth. Life on these stars, if it were to exist, would have a very slow metabolism and rate of consciousness, taking 1,000 years to complete a single thought.

Give it a read; you will definitely learn something new.

Things Are Getting Faster

One of the common themes of life today is that it’s getting faster. It’s not that time has actually sped up, rather the rate of change in society has sped up.

This is really happening; it’s not just crotchety old men pining for the days of martini lunches. One way to measure this trend is through technology adoption rates.

This chart from somewhere on the Internet shows how long it took for different technologies to reach the same portion of America’s population:
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You don’t have to be a genius to see that it’s getting faster.

If you’re a science fiction fan, the acceleration continues inexorably until it’s infinite and we hit something called The Singularity. Who knows what happens then; perhaps we turn into pure energy (Didn’t realize Powder was a documentary) or we all upload our brains to computers and colonize the stars. Or maybe the rate of change stabilizes and we just end up in a period of constant – but not accelerating – change (I’ll bet on that).

This trend has some unique implications. We see, for instance, that it’s harder to stay successful. How many overnight Internet celebrities have appeared over the past few years? Similarly, the Fortune 500 lost is turning over faster then ever. Glory is increasingly fleeting.

Some more evidence of this:

  • ebooks-a category that basically didn’t exist six years ago-have almost stopped growing. We went from no one having them to saturation in the blink of an eye
  • Apple’s iPad sales are flat; they’re selling tons but the rate’s not accelerating. It may be that everyone who needs a super high end tablet has one-and it only took 3 years

I find this fascinating. You’d think the iPad is a growth hit that you could take to the bank for 10 years; now it looks like some dramatic rework is required. Ditto if you’re Amazon with your Kindles.

What I take away is that we’re in an era where we can’t rest on our laurels and we’ll have to constantly adopt new ideas and learn a lot of new things. In fact, resistance to new ideas (or at least technology) could potentially become a leading indicator of future o failure.

I’ve given up trying to predict what I’ll be doing in five years time and instead focus on learning lots of new things and meeting interesting people. We’ll see where the journey goes.