The year 2029 must have seemed a long way off when Masamune Shirow first published his cyberpunk vision, Ghost in the Shell, in 1989. The intervening 28 years to today have seen multiple animated adaptations of his work (two films and a TV series). Despite its age and the inevitable changes that follow from any adaptation, Shirow’s core technological vision has been remarkably unchanged since the first manga.

Ghost in the Shell (1989)

The franchise provides plenty of food for thought relating to cybernetic augmentation, artificial intelligence, and fundamental questions on the nature of humanity and sentience. In this post, I’ll take a close look at one particularly eye-catching concept — cybernetic prosthetic hands that are shown driving computers with blazing speed. Even in our current era of Bluetooth and optical communication, this concept somehow still earns a prominent place in the contemporary canon.

Beyond the Home Row

Keyboards, whether QWERTY or Dvorak, split ergonomic or Maltron, all have 10 keys on the home row. Debates about comparative speed aside, they all have approximately the same number of total keys as there are only

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Almost three years I published an article detailing how to remotely buzz yourself into an apartment building. In the time since, new technologies have made it even easier to interact with your home remotely. Below, I detail an updated remote door buzzer that works with mobile phones and even Apple Watches. Furthermore, the basic setup is extensible to lighting systems and any other action that can be controlled by a shell script.

Overview

The ultimate workflow is simple and is as follows:

  1. On your smartphone or Apple Watch, send a Yo to a custom-created recipient
  2. Your door buzzer will be activated

To achieve this, we’ll be using a custom-made circuit that electronically switches the door buzzer. To control the circuit remotely, we’ll be using a Raspberry Pi home server that will receive casually authenticated signals over the internet sent via the Yo app (https://dashboard.justyo.co/).

Required Gear

The following items will be used to create your phone-controlled door buzzer:

  • Raspberry Pi — Any Raspberry Pi model should work, but I’m using the Raspberry Pi Model B+. You’ll also need an SD card (micro SD in the case of the B+ model) with at least a few gigs of space, and all gear

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I recently watched 2010: The Year We Make Contact and noted how the set was crammed with old-school keyboards. It occurred to me that if the film were re-made today, each of those conventional-looking keyboards would be replaced by a futuristic virtual keyboard on a screen, wall, or table surface (the control center in the film Oblivion comes to mind).

We have the technology today to create that reality of glass-based interface, but how many of us are actually using soft keyboards to do serious work on on computers? The first accessory I bought for my first iPad was a Bluetooth keyboard. The first accessory I bought for my new iPad mini 2 only a few months ago was a Bluetooth keyboard.

In my experience working with professional software developers at a prominent startup, instead of moving toward soft keyboards, the trend is quite literally opposite. Many developers I know are seeking out mechanical switch keyboards with greater “clickiness”, not less, such as Max Keyboard Blackbird Tenkeyless model (I’m told the Cherry MX Blue version is the most clicky). They appreciate the more active typing experience, and

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Tech news site The Information is reporting that Google is developing three successors to Google Glass, to be released in 2016.

Notably, one of those three models is Glass-less, so to speak. It will drop the screen in favor of exclusively audio output. Moreover, the audio will be delivered by bone conduction, as was the case with the original Google Glass.

Although Google continues to develop a 2nd generation screened version for the enterprise market, the audio-centric version, which is presumably targeting the sports market, may overcome the primary challenge that blocked Google Glass from more widespread adoption. Specifically, a small and unobtrusive bone conduction audio device may allow for a connected experience without putting barriers between individuals who are face-to-face.

With all wearable devices, I am concerned about sending signals to other people that I’m distracted or otherwise not paying full attention to someone. Regularly I found myself checking alerts on my Pebble Watch only to realize it looked like I was checking my watch as if I was bored with a conversation or had a conflict. This is less prominent with the Apple Watch, in my experience, because it handles multiple missed alerts more

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I recently started experimenting with text-to-speech (TTS) and automated speech recognition (ASR) functionality after participating in a hackathon in San Francisco several weeks ago co-sponsored by AT&T. Further emboldened by a re-watching of 2001: A Space Odyssey, I set out to make a program that I could drive with some simple voice commands: “tell me the weather,” “what’s the market doing?” etc. Unsurprisingly, my results were mixed — the voice recording component sometimes truncated phrases, the web-based ASR took 1-2 seconds to process, and the results were sometimes wrong in unexpected ways (possibly attributable more to my microphone than AT&T’s API). I was sure that someone a little more experienced could really knock speech functionality out of the park.

Consequently, I was excited to play with an Xbox 360 while staying with a friend for a few days recently. It’s an old platform at this point, and I’m eager to see Xbox One, but I was surprised how limited and clunky the console’s speech capabilities were. Firstly, even in a quiet living room we found ourselves practically yelling at the console — “Xbox, Netflix!”. We’d laugh at how many times it took to recognize our command.

Secondly, the

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Caroline was throwing fish to the largest dolphin — the big male called Scarback — when a gentle tickling on Floyd’s wrist announced an an incoming call. He tapped the slim metal band to quench the silent alarm and forestall the audible one, then walked to the nearest of the comsets scattered around the room.”

— 2010: Odyssey Two (1982)

After almost four weeks with the Pebble smartwatch I have to admit I’m pretty satisfied. I bought the Pebble out of curiosity and a love of new technology, but its proven itself and demonstrating staying power on my wrist. The Pebble is not all things to all people, and never will be, but for a limited set of uses it’s been a great addition to my daily load-out.

Number one, I love the notifications — that’s the biggest weakness of keeping a phone in your pocket. Either you need it to make a significant noise which is as likely to disrupt someone else as alert me, or it’s on vibrate in which case I find I miss a lot of calls and texts. Therefore, I was very happy with the pebble which provides subtle but clear alerts. I have yet to be

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I’m a newly minted Pebble owner — going on three days. As the novelty of receiving SMS and e-mail on my wrist becomes my new normal, I’ve been looking for more ways to use the device. Sitting in Starbucks only one hour ago, it occurred to me that I could replicate Starbucks’ digital payment method currently enabled by iOS Passbook (and its native app) on the Pebble e-watch. All I needed was enough real estate to show the barcode with sufficient resolution that the reader would pick it up. Apparently the Pebble has enough real estate even on its tiny 168×144 screen, and I have just bought my first drink paid for with my Pebble.

This being my first Pebble app, what follows is horribly ugly.

I knew that I wanted to use a watch face as a template. Pebble treats “watch faces” different than “watch apps” — the most important distinction being that you can access watch faces from the home watch view simply by hitting the up or down keys and scrolling through them. Watch apps (like calculators or games) are accessed through the selection button, then you scroll through all your app

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Wired recently pondered whether wearable technologies are only for the privileged. Ultimately the article was just a report on the high price of wearable fitness technologies and Google Glass, while stopping short of exploring the very interesting question in its title, “Are Wearable Technologies Just a Luxury for the Upper-Class?” A look back at the history of innovative and disruptive technologies suggests not, and that eventually these technologies will someday be mass market, but only if they solve problems familiar to classes lower on the socioeconomic ladder. Once-expensive revolutionary technologies can achieve economies of scale and move down-market only if they solve commonplace problems better than existing products, while others that solve niche problems remain expensive, and more often than not disappear altogether.

The Cellular Phone — Problem Solver

Cell phones are everywhere, and in developing countries they are more prevalent than landlines for a variety of reasons including lack of wired infrastructure and more flexible payment plans, on top of all the benefits of mobility. In fact, penetration of cellular phones per capita in the developing world is fact-approaching that of the developed world.

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While the world is all aflutter about viewing tasks and news alerts from a wristwatch, I’ve recently discovered two delightful programs that allow me to do the same from a terminal window — yes, without a mouse.

Task Warrior

Task Warrior is an impressively fully-featured terminal task list manager.  After a quick review of the tutorial, I was up and running with powerful task customization capabilities beyond those even offered by Google’s task client.  Task Warrior supports not only project-categorization and due dates, but also dependencies, recurrence, project completion progress, and more.  Furthermore, the entire application is extensible via third party or custom scripts and add-ons.

Tasks are easy to add with simple syntax such as follows:


$ task add Call home
$ task add Pick up milk proj:Errands pri:H
$ task add Walk the dog due:eoy recur:daily proj:Life tag:dog

Also, the developers have smartly added three levels of task-viewing: very short, short, and complete (below). Also, it’s easy to view only specific projects as your task list grows. The simplicity is addicting, and will never be maligned as skeuomorphic. I’m eagerly awaiting future versions of the client which will allow syncing across devices.

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In addition to many fine movies available to stream on Amazon Prime, there is also Dredd, a film 2012 installment in the Judge Dredd franchise. For a film taking place in the 22nd century, the technologies portrayed in the film are, for the most part, remarkably mundane. While spending many production resources on flashly explosions and slow-motion sequences, the high technology of the film is more or less limited to one large computer monitor dressed up in futuristic garb by showing 3D floorplans, windowed security CCTV feeds, the classic Windows star screen saver, and a terminal window — pretty much a regular episode of 24.

The most adventurous piece of technology portrayed is a set of bionic eyes possessed by the “clan techie.” It’s never made clear what these actually do other than serve as eye-candy (pun intended) because the character still uses a computer monitor and displays no special abilities. Their only function is to look pretty – Tron-blue in color with bladed iris adjustable diaphrams – and move the plot forward in an almost negligible way (and even then without any reference to actual functionality). In fact, there’s even a

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…which is to say I don’t.

In the realm of contemporary touch-free interface, RFID and NFC are probably 95% of the pie. They are widely adopted in building access control, contactless payments, mobile-to-mobile sharing, supply chain management, and even hospital patient tracking. For these purposes they are remarkably inexpensive to install and maintain, and the technology is mature. Given these benefits, it is not unreasonable that one should want the convenience of contactless access control without the key fob, chip, or smartphone, and so a small community of DIY RFID-implanters has come into existence.

The notion of implanting an RFID tag is not wholly unreasonable (no so different than many other types of mainstream (implants) and alternative (piercings, tattoos, etc.) invasive body modifications). After all, my two dogs have painlessly carried an RFID chip in the skin between their shoulder blades for years now (for non-pet owners: this is a common practice to allow identification of lost pets). Such purpose-build tags are biologically inert and as RFID does not require a local power source, they do not contain any harmful chemicals and do not radiate unless scanned — they are just a little glass, plastic, metal,

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