Everything Old Is New Again: Vol. 47

I was reading an old (1966!) New Yorker interview with Buckminster Fuller when I came across this gem:

…”But, of course, the university itself won’t be anything like what it is now. We’ll get rid of all the teachers who are just holding on to their jobs in order to eat—all the deadwood, which is the biggest problem in a university anyhow. The deadwood will get fellowships to study or work on their own, and TV will come in to take over most of the actual teaching. There will be a large technical staff making documentary movies. The university is going to become a really marvellous industry, with tools like individually selected and articulated two-way TV that will permit any student anywhere in the world to select from a vast stockpile of documentaries on any subject and watch it over his own TV set at home. The individual is going to study mainly at home. And the great teachers won’t have to spend their time delivering the same lectures over and over, because they’ll put them on film. The teachers and scholars will be free to spend their time developing more and more knowledge about man’s whole experience—past, present, and future.”

“But what about the students?” I asked. “How will they react to being cast adrift in a world of impersonal educational machinery? Isn’t part of the answer implied in the recent disorders at modern multiversities such as U.C.L.A.?”

Fuller considered the question. “You know, young people sometimes have an infallible sense about these things,” he said, at last. “In my youth, we used to talk about ‘square shooters.’ Today, when a student calls somebody a ‘square’ he means something entirely different. It doesn’t imply that he’s lost respect for integrity, or anything like that. A ‘square’ these days is somebody who’s static, immobilized, obsolete—as obsolete as the square box in architecture. Today’s student knows instinctively that his world is dynamic, not static, and that the normal state of affairs is constant change and evolution.

Fuller describes what we’re seeing now with MOOCs, only he got the technology wrong (he thought TV). Once again, everything old is new again…

On Driving An Electric Car

I had a new experience: I drove an all-electric car. I come from a yuppified, Prius-driving household, but I’d never actually driven a purely electric car-and I thought I’d share a couple on notes.

Electric Car2go

The first thing I noticed was that I couldn’t initially tell that the car was on. Normally when I’m in a Smart Car I turn the key, the engine roars (okay, it’s more like the sputter of a lawn mower…) to life and that’s my instruction to release the key so I don’t destroy the starter engine.

There’s no such sound with an electric engine. If you’re me, you just sit there turning the key coming to the slow realization that something’s happened, and then you noticed the dial:

Inside electric car2go

That’s the only signal you’ll get that the car is actually on.

When you start moving, it’s just the sound of the tires on the road and the occasional high-pitched whine of the engine when you press the accelerator (which really should be called something else because there is barely any pickup).

I did notice one really weird thing while driving: the car is by default in neutral if the accelerator isn’t depressed.

I’m one of those people who releases the brake just before the light starts so that I can get the car in motion and then accelerate smoothly. However, when I released the brake on this car, I found myself slowly rolling backwards. Rather than being in first gear, the car was in neutral; this meant that I had to keep constantly pressing the accelerator to keep it moving.

Neat experience and a lot of fun; hopefully I’ll get a chance to try another one soon.

Cameratastic

One of the joys of owning a smartphone is installing camera apps on it so that you can take crummy photos and then make yourself look like Monet or Chuck Close without having to boot up Photoshop.

I’ve been playing with a few apps recently (beyond the granddaddy of ’em all, Instagram), thought I’d share them with you.

Here’s my original image, a middling photo of some crocuses:

Original - Crocuses

Here’s what it looks like after being passed through Painteresque:

Painteresque - Crocuses

Want more of an etched look instead of a painted look? Try the eponymous Etchings:

Etchings - Crocuses

Or perhaps you want a little more abstract. Try Percolator:

Percolator - Crocuses

If you percolate it further, you’ll get this:

Percolator - Crocuses

For a more playful look, try Halftone:

Halftone - Crocuses

A few random thoughts:

  • Will we see these filters become a core part of the built-in camera? Will iOS or Android ever cannibalize their ecosystem by pulling these in to the main app?
  • Everyone loves apps that makes them look like a professional; these apps do a fantastic job of this. I wonder what other categories on the phone exist for this?

What Does 1 Month Of Tweets Look Like?

There are no shortage of visualization tools to help you understand your tweet stream. I’d like to add another one: the paper trail.

For the past month I’ve been printing my tweets. It’s an experiment and an admittedly narcissistic pursuit.

Here’s what makes the magic happen; it’s an Adafruit Internet of Things Printer:

1 month of tweets (Little printer)

It’s a thermal printer that’s connected to the Net. It pings search.twitter.com and find every time I tweet.

After a month that’s a roll of paper that stretched twenty feet along my floor:

1 month of tweets

1 month of tweets

Another perspective comes from hanging it from the ceiling:

1 month of tweets

Here’s a close-up of a tweet:

1 month of tweets

This is stunningly banal stuff. Any individual tweet does not conjure up a heckuva lot of emotion (particularly the auto-tweeted ones). Yet, when you see twenty feet of them, there’s something interesting about it.

My Technology Graveyard

For the past six years or so, I’ve stopped throwing out old technology. Instead all the gadgets go into a box and it’s my self-styled “technology graveyard.” I’m interested in watching how this evolves (and things are finally small enough that I can store them in a box; this wasn’t an option with old computers).

You can see a photo of the graveyard below: it’s missing a Blackberry. Also, there’d be another digital camera there but I gave it away.

Two things stick out when I look at the graveyard:

1) The rate of change amongst phones is incredible. The iPhone 3Gs that are in the graveyard are practically useless; don’t even get me started on the 2006 Nokia (which did streaming video; oh how Nokia had the future in its hands…). By comparison, during the past eight years I’ve bought two laptops.

2) The other is how the phone is eating the world. Goodbye standalone Kindle. Goodbye Nintendo 2DS. Goodbye pocket camera. Goodbye Palm Pilot (your solitaire game got me through grad school lectures). Each is just an app within my phone now. And this isn’t going to stop any time soon; obvious devices have been replaced by the phone; my wallet and keys are probably next.