Thursday, December 28, 2017

A Magic Leap Into Augmented Reality?

Image credit:
Over the years in RapidGroove, I've thought and written about Google Glass, Oculus Rift, and a number of other Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality products and possibilities. During the last few years, the not-yet-a-product that may have most captured the imagination is Magic Leap. We may now be finally getting a peak and a promise of a Magic Leap product in the coming year.

Let's back up a bit and review terms. Virtual Reality (VR) immerses a user in a simulation of a real or imagined world, shutting out the real world. This is generally done through strapped-on goggles that have an integrated display (or sometimes leveraging your smart phone). The display replaces your view of the world around you. Sometimes the experience is extended through the addition of audio via headphones. Oculus Rift and HTCVive are examples of consumer technologies that deliver VR.

Augmented Reality (AR) is a technology that layers computer-generated elements, such as graphical objects or text, over existing reality in order to extend the experience or deliver additional information. As with VR, AR can be delivered through strapped-on headsets. Rather than eliminating the world around you, though, AR superimposes graphics or text onto the objects in the real world that you can see. Google Glass was an early example of consumer technology that delivers AR.

The next level of consumer AR may come from Magic Leap via the Magic Leap One. The secretive company has been the talk of the industry for some time as a result of some amazing concept videos showing whales sounding from a high school gym floor and tiny elephants walking around in cupped hands. The mix of real with realistic-but-computer-generated in these concept videos has been compelling. But when no actual product was forthcoming for several years despite huge investments and the passage of time, and given that very few had seen any of the company's work first hand, some began to wonder whether any real product would ever be delivered. Then in mid-December of 2017, announcement began to appear. Magic Leap One would ship in 2018. Details are still few, and an exact date has not yet been announced as of this writing, but we do seem to be getting closer to seeing an actual product.

Magic Leap One seems to involve four elements. First, there is a set of goggles through which the user sees the real world and also sees the augmented elements. Second, there is the “Lightpack,” which is a small round computer strapped to the user and providing most of the computational power. Third, there is a handheld controller to allow manual interaction. And finally, there is the Magic Leap software that ties all of this together and makes the augmented experience possible.

Given the intense computation and communication work it takes to render virtual objects in the field of view and anchor them to real world objects, most skeptics have pointed to computational capacity, communications latency, and battery life as significant challenges. Lag in VR can cause some people to experience a sick feeling, and in AR it can take away from the strength of the experience and the realism of the augmented elements. When Magic Leap One was demonstrated to Rolling Stone reporters a few weeks ago, however, they reported very good performance.

The history of personal computing, including modern mobile devices, involves users tied to screens of various sizes. The promise of the kind of AR that Magic Leap One seeks to deliver is a future without such physical screens. Virtual screens can appear anywhere, floating in space or following us or other objects around. There can be as many or as few as we want or need. And rendered information can go well beyond flat virtual screens since it can appear to be three dimensional (virtual people, animals, objects) and can co-exist with the real world around us.

What's this stuff good for? Gaming seems like a natural, of course, but how about other uses such as social interaction, education, and business collaboration? The applications seem endless. 

Is 2018 finally the time when compelling AR becomes available to consumers? Magic Leap has broken promises before, but I'm crossing my fingers and hoping that this time they can really deliver in the very near future.

What AR applications would prompt you to invest $1500 or $2000 (a wild guess at the entry level cost) into a system like this? Leave a comment and let us know.


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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Net Neutrality Once Again At Risk

Net Neutrality Series, Part 4

Remember Net Neutrality? The term was coined by Columbia University professor Tim Wu in 2003 (ref). It's a topic I've written about in RapidGroove several times before (See part 1part 2part 3).

Net Neutrality is all about fair handling of traffic on the Internet. Without it, carriers could speed up traffic from, say, the audio and video services in which they have financial interests, and slow down or block the traffic of the ones where they do not. 

Net Neutrality is once again at risk. Today's FCC leadership is sympathetic to the wishes of the big carriers. In December, the FCC will vote on the “Restoring Internet Freedom Order.” The “freedom" in this case is clearly for network carriers, not you the Internet user, and the "restoring" part is about restoring the days before the FCC upheld the concepts of Net Neutrality, which the current FCC chairman characterizes as "heavy handed." But these regulations have helped to make the Internet a level playing field for new services. As a result, the FCC's likely next move will be a real blow to innovation. That's a loss for us all.

Net Neutrality is not an easy set of concepts to understand because it requires some understanding of the infrastructure of the Internet and because at times services that seem to be benefits to consumers (such as Zero Rating) are really providing a small benefit while creating an environment in which individuals and small companies cannot easily develop and deploy new services – all to protect the financial interests of a small number of very wealthy carriers with enormous lobbying power.

Perhaps even more troubling, there is evidence emerging that during open comment periods, more than a million comments calling for Net Neutrality repeal were fakes. Even public comments are struggling for a level playing field.

If you feel strongly about a free and open Internet, consider doing the following to help: 
** Write to your congress-person at  
** Join the EFF at

Finally, keep an eye on the vote in December and on the aftermath. The Internet is a powerful force and the final chapter of the Net Neutrality story has probably not yet been written.


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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Selling My Boat

... and buying another

At the end of the summer of 2017, I sold my boat – a 26’ center console Sailfish (the make) that I called "Freedom." It was a wonderful boat that I bought 11 years ago when it was 2 or 3 years old. Many great days were spent on that boat, fishing in the bay and the ocean, shuttling the family to the beach for a day of swimming, taking a few day trips to nearby port towns, and stopping off at our favorite marinas for a beautiful waterfront lunch.

Freedom, my boat for over 10 years
They say that the two happiest days of a boat owners life are the day they buy a boat and the day they sell it. For me, the day I bought Freedom was a very happy day. She was a gem and I loved every day out on the water with her. I can't say that the day I sold her was the happiest day, but it also wasn't the saddest. I hadn't grown tired of her. But ... 

They say a boat is a hole in the water you pour money into. While that wasn't really true for me I will say that maintenance was considerable and it was growing over time as the boat and the engines aged. I became convinced that Freedom would be a better boat for someone who did more of their own maintenance than I ever could. Someone who was handy and mechanically inclined and who would enjoy the work. That wasn't me. I'm happy to say that the buyer turned out to be just such a person. Someone whose family will love the boat the way I did, and who will do the work to restore her to her youthful beauty. He even promised to send me pictures as things progressed.

They say that a boat owner will gladly tell you a little about their boat, but will enthusiastically tell you a lot about their next boat. I guess that's true for me as well. On the afternoon after I sold my boat, I went boat shopping. I climbed aboard several late model center console fishing boats – Boston Whalers, Grady Whites, Edgewaters and Cobias in the 26' to 30' size range. All were great boats. I'll continue to shop over the fall and winter, in hopes of finding a new boat by late spring for the 2018 season.

I already miss my 26’ Sailfish “Freedom,” but I look forward to a long term love affair with my next boat! Please wish me luck for the summer of 2018. I'll gladly post pictures when I eventually make a purchase.

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Friday, September 29, 2017

Should I get an iPhone X?

I've been using iPhones since the early days, usually getting every other model. I had a 3G, a 4, a 5, and a 6 plus. Right now I have an SE as a stop gap. I'm due for a phone soon and wonder about the iPhone 8 and the iPhone X. The iPhone 8 looks like the standard upgrade -- a better processor, more available storage, better camera, designed to run modern iOS. I could go with that. Meanwhile the iPhone X looks like a nice evolution of the iPhone, with an edge to edge high resolution screen and "Face ID" replacing Touch ID. Look at your phone to unlock it.

Image Credit: The Verge
By past standards, the iPhone X is an expensive phone, starting at about $1000. But that seems to be the new price point for a flagship smartphone. The Samsung Galaxy Note8, another phone with an edge to edge screen, is in the same price range. That may be what those interested in state of the art smart phones will be paying this year and next.

I must admit that the thing that has me on the fence about the new iPhone X is not the price. I'm willing to spend a little more for a phone that I will rely upon in a major way for a good long while (I keep my phones for 2 years when possible). It's actually some concern that Face ID will turn out to be awkward or unreliable or quirky in situations we don't yet understand. For these reasons, I'm thinking of waiting until about January 2018 for early reports from real users before I decide whether to order an iPhone X. I guess I won't get to be the "early adopter" that everyone envies, but I'll have a better idea what I'm in for.

How about you? Are you ordering an iPhone X? Does my caution seem misplaced to you? I'd really love to know! Please leave a comment.

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Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Floods and Technology

Harvey, the hurricane and tropical storm hitting Texas and other Gulf Coast locations, has clearly been devastating. Stories and images of massive destruction, people forced from their homes, and damage and loss of property fill the news. Most tragically, there has been loss of life. The impacts of this massive storm on the communities hardest hit will be felt for a very long time. When the waters recede, we will likely see many homes, streets, roadways and bridges that are damaged beyond repair.
One interesting and positive element of the story is that computers, smart phones, and communications technology are all being leveraged exceptionally well in flood relief efforts. A Washington Post story reported, “Using social media, flood victims who still had power were able to communicate with public officials directly or to bypass them entirely and coordinate their own rescues with private citizens.”

On the flip side of the coin, technology has also been a casualty of the storm. Flooding has caused damage to communications infrastructure including cell towers and fiber and coax cable in the ground. This hampers the efforts of the many first responders and volunteers who are working so hard to help those affected.

In the weeks and months after the storm clears the area and waters recede, and as people begin to return to their flood-damaged homes, personal technology is likely to have taken a major hit. Home computers and the data they hold, including important financial documents and the digital photo collections of families, may be damaged beyond recovery. This is another opportunity to think about how we treat and protect data in our personal life, and perhaps a good argument for cloud-based data backups of digital assets we never want to lose.

How do you protect your technology and your data from physical risks like floods? Please leave a comment and share your thoughts with us.


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