Monday, November 29, 2010

Era of CCC: Part 1 - Creativity

This is the first post of a 4-part series that I've wanted to write for a very long time but failed to find the time or inspiration for. It is, for me, a hope for the future that can yet still happen.

Imagine, for a moment, that you did not have to work; that sleep was optional; that you could obtain, without paying or even getting out of the house, any item or material that you wanted. What would you do with 24 hours per day of completely free and open time with no obligation to anyone or anything?

In a world where this could be possible for every citizen of earth; where poverty was non-existent and resources limitless, creativity would thrive. Instead of droning into work every morning, or struggling to find food and water, humans could sit down, appreciate what is around them, and start creating.

If the world was an open sandbox game, the boundaries between imagination and reality would disappear. The human mind, freed from the constraints of meaningless work, could now explore new corners of itself that it could not have fathomed before. We would see new Picassos, Beethovens and DaVincis come forward to blow our mind out even further. Our civilization would evolve on a conscious and mental level beyond what we can achieve with the chains that currently drag us down into the abyss of everyday life.

Do you still think this is a pipe dream, that humans cannot live without the stimulation of a 9 to 5 pencil-pushing job? I pity you, and hope you will see the light when it shines upon you. In the meantime, do a little search on YouTube for Minecraft and browse through player creations, you may yet be amazed at what people can do when they have time on their hands...

And how could this be achieved? Robots? Virtual Reality? Replicators from Star Trek? What do you think of the idea and how do you think we could do it?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

From Technical Support to Technical Writer

For just over 6 years, my job was to fix problems. Every morning I would wake up, get to work and the first thing I would hear when answering the phone was invariably a client that thought not being able to login to hotmail was the crime of century. Still, being technical support agent/advisor/drone was satisfying in it's own way; helping people has always been my passion after all. After a while though, the satisfaction of getting someone to type in their username and then explain that their keyboard was not broken - stars in the password field WERE normal - kind of dies down. There is only so much configuring Outlook Express one can take before being bored; I still know the Windows XP "New Connection" wizard by heart after over 3 years.

Changing fields did little to quench the feeling that I was going nowhere. Tech support for internal employees was just as bad, if not worse, because they could actually put pressure on me, they knew my boss after all... And one wonders why tech support people are often disagreeable! You're not their first client who doesn't know why torrents are causing 250 gigs of transfer on your connection, bub.

So anyway, when I was given the opportunity to switch careers, especially within the great company where I work now, I jumped on it head first. With the change of one single word in my title - from Support to Writer - everything had changed. It is amazing the perspective one can gain when discovering a new career that wasn't expected!

I finally realized that writing documentation was much better than doing support, because of the famous adage "feed a man fish and he'll eat for a day, teach him to fish and he will have food for a lifetime". I know, you may think people don't read user manuals and instructions, but in my field it is not the case. It's not a VCR from Taiwan we're talking about, it's a complex software costing in the 5 digits! Besides, people don't read manuals because they often "suck balls" as I have often put it myself. I've made it my new mission to pull a Midas and change that crap into gold with my magic touch.

On top of this, spending my whole day sitting on my ass getting paid to type on a keyboard about shit I actually like has also brought me new determination and confidence about my writing. As you've no doubt noticed, I have been blogging a lot more and not only on this personal blog (google "PlanetPress Tips blog") and there will be a lot more to come, no more excuses.

I may even start writing my book...

Monday, November 22, 2010

Taking a hint from the gaming industry

Are you listening, Universal Studios, Paramount and other bigwigs? 

Have you ever dreamed of being able to control the outcome of a movie? I mean, it's all fine and good that movies follow a script, but I've always wished that there was a little more replayability in motion pictures like there was in video games. The idea came up in a conversation with my sister Cassandra, and it goes like this. 

Each of the viewers in the theatre gets a little clicker with two buttons on them. At certain key points in the movie, a choice is presented to them: go left or right, fight or flight, wrong or right. The choice of the majority either way, or a tie, will give you 2 or 3 possible outcomes for that specific situation. Say you have 3 such choices, that gives you 9 different paths for the movie! Now imagine this is movie you'd want to see more than once anyway - wouldn't it make you want to see it until all the endings had been seen? But you don't choose the outcome, the majority does. So you may actually need to see the movie more than 9 times to get all the endings.

This not only bring value to a movie both in theaters and in a DVD release, it also generates increased business for the theaters themselves and the producers. Win-win situation, or gimmicky way of making more money? What do think?

Star Trek is Dead! Long Live Star Trek!

There will be no more Star Trek. No, this isn't a Paramount Pictures announcement, as they will most likely continue to produce shows and movies in the franchise, not realizing that the reason Enterprise and Voyager were both so unappreciated is because the spirit that was Star Trek at it's beginnings is no longer. Paramount is, in reality, feeding is zombie meat with no soul.

Did the current state of things come about by the death of Gene Roddenberry? Perhaps, though that is by no means certain. While Gene was a genius in his own time and his values are now intertwined in our society, once the message was passed there was unfortunately not much he could do further other than continue churning out show after show, inventing new values an technologies - let me explain this.

There were two things that made Star Trek an innovative an welcomed release from the hordes of 50s scifi flicks - its penchant for extremely futuristic yet believable technology and its insisting message that racism and sexism had no place in our society anymore. The first led to a slew of inventions and research, including mobile phones - I wouldn't be typing this on my iPhone if a fan had not taken the communicators seriously and spent his life trying to make it a reality. Today, scientists are still looking up to the technobabble of the original series and trying to bring teleportation, warp speed and holodecks into our lives.

Socially, Star Trek was also a model of innovation. It had the first ever interracial kiss on television between Kirk and Uhura, and it also boasted an international cast of characters that were mostly from countries that the USA had been at war with in the past. It continuously showed that aliens could be friends and fighting was not the right way to go - though it still contained plenty of fighting. It was a show, after all.

But once the message was passed, and the technology was shown, what else was there to do with this show? More technology, and more social messages? The Next Generation brought nicer props and slight improvements but was not by any means revolutionary. It showed more alliances and battles, more geek gadgets and technobabble which probably led to things like touch screens, but those were only a continuation of the previous inventions - a simple evolution, not a revolution. The shows also continued to show us not to hate what was different, but now it was inventing new people not to hate - more aliens, cyborgs and robots, energy-based entities... Nothing anyone us will encounter in our lifetime or perhaps in a few generations.

Today, now that Gene is no longer, even that passion has died down. We are getting spoon-fed pre-digested scripts written by the fanboys and others who simply do not have the same talent. After the series could no longer go forward because time travel had ruined it, Paramount tried to go back to the "roots" bit failed to understand that they were not back in the show's timeline and adding a bunch of blueish LCDs and some witty characters that acted like they were in a soap, which was made worse by their finding a ship from the future an being amazed at flashing lights and other 1960s props. Then came the Star Trek movie which apparently thinks an alternate timeline and revival of the original crew would satisfy us, the fans of the REAL Star-Trek. No, we Trekkers an Trekkies should mourn the loss of our beloved Gene and simply walk away from Paramount's misdirected efforts. 

Now here is what saddens me the most. Not only has the series itself died with it's creator, so did it's spirit and essence, the innovation that brought us to where we stand before. While I'll always appreciate a good scifi show lime Battlestar Galactica or a movie like the Matrix and Serenity, they are but an empty shell of special effects and taboo-cleansed scripts. Every show is like the other, a basic frame of a misunderstood ideals cited with a layer of special effects and characters built from the same templates.

Will we ever see the light? Will something new suddenly change the game? I don't think so - and I don't thing it should. My hope is that the new revolution is not a new show or movie; it will have to come about in the real life. We have to actually get off our collective couch potato asses waiting for our next episode and start wanting our society to change for the better, for these technologies we love to try to explain to become reality, and to REALLY go where no man has gone before.

How many of you have heard of NASA's plan for a manned mission to Mars within a decade? Aren't you dreaming of going into space one day? There's still chance, if we step up and demand it, if we stop feeding trolls called Paramount and the Sci-Fi Channel, go back to OUR roots where the important part of the journey WAS the journey. This is my deepest desire, as a human being that lives and breathes.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The next step in computer interfaces

Have you heard of Augmented Reality? AR is very simply the addition of a layer of computer-generated information on top of the real world. And while this idea sounds simple I'm theory, in practice it's currently very hard to achieve a seamless integration of digital information on top of what our eyes see, our ears hear and our other senses, well, sense.

But why is AR important, why do we want it? Well, there are some important aspects of our society that are quickly evolving, along with technology itself which is now getting ever-powerful, ever-smaller. Computers are now getting so small, screens and keyboards are the breaking point, the bottleneck in miniaturization. It's all good to have a computer the size of a matchbox, how do you control it, how do you interact with it? AR is one possible solution.

The current implementations that have been put forward, some of which are currently on the market, include smart phones with GPS and accelerometer hardware (like the iPhone) as well as more complex solutions including bulky headsets with cameras, screen and earphones. Both of these solutions cannot possibly last very long, as walking around in public waving a cellphone around or boasting a 10kg helmet is neither sexy nor fashionable.

But what could possibly be better, you ask? The answer will scare some, please others and horrify a few: implants and cybernetics. That's right folks, the next evolution of computers will most likely involve surgery, melding machine and human, creating what some may call freaks but I consider the next natural step.

If you think that hijacking your senses is far away in the future, it's time to review that 20th-century frame of mind. Cochlear (audio) implants have been around for years giving back hearing to the deaf, even some born with no hearing at all, introducing them (back) to the world of music, nature and civilization. More recently great progress is being made in video implants, giving back the gift of sight to the blind. And while the technology, which involves plugging into the eye, nerve, is still at it's infancy, it has permitted at least one man to gain back enough vision to recognize different bills of money, know where his fork and spoon are on the table, and notice an error in his name written in tape on the table in 10" letters.

If the idea of a surgeon digging into your head and plugging into your nervous system makes you nervous (ha!), imagine a world where you don't ever need to pull out your phone from your pocket to answer a call, read your email, lookup the best restaurants in your area. Imagine needing directions and seeing a wide yellow line drawing itself in the street for you to follow. Imagine going to a meeting with new clients and seeing their name, title and contact info over their head. Going shopping and filtering price tags with a quick search. Never going in circles to find a parking spot downtown. Being able to sleep at night by turning OFF the external inputs to be in complete silence an darkness. And for the gamers out there... Do I even need to say anything about what REAL immersion is?

Are you wondering how this would come into life in the mass market, why people would want to do this? Well, one word for you unbelievers: porn. That says it all, I think.

I do believe that this will become a reality during my lifetime.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

RockMelt is smokin' hot!

What do most people do when they go on the internet and open their browser? That's right - jump on FaceBook, Twitter, their email, and their RSS Feeds. People are social creatures, and they really dig Social Media.

One group of people got that. I mean, besides Facebook. RockMelt is a brand new browser that's still in its early beta stages, but it really is smokin' hot. It integrates, out of the box, Facebook and Twitter, as well as RSS feeds, so that you are aware of what's happening in your world. What's cool is that it places everything on two vertical sidebars in the browser itself, which means it doesn't take up any toolbar space! For someone with a widescreen monitor at a crazy resolution, that's a god-sent since that space is generally taken by webpage's backgrounds or whitespace.

But how do you get RockMelt? Well, first you need to have a Facebook account. No Facebook, no RockMelt. Once you login to their website with Facebook, you are put in a queue to receive an invite. However, if you have a friend that already has RockMelt (like myself), they can see that you want it, and with a single button send you an invite to hook you up.

I don't know if it hit you like it did me... But using the most popular social media site to promote and share an exclusive beta for a browser that's basically Google Chrome on Social Media Steroids... That's pure genius. And a closed beta with limited invites is not a bad thing, it's yet more genius. Because if you control the flow of people getting into your software, you're building up the hype as well as making sure you don't get overwhelmed with bandwidth issues and bug reports.

My hat goes to you, RockMelt. I've been using your browser for just under 15 minutes, and you've already got me completely hooked. Well played my friends, well played.