Sunday, March 31, 2013

Book Review: Amped

Last week I finished Amped by Daniel H. Wilson. I'd recently read Robopocalypse and enjoyed it so thought I'd give another of his a try.

Like Robopocalypse, Wilson uses well-trod ground to make a statement about our current day erosion of civil liberties in the name of security; and like Robopocalypse, it's well executed.

The book takes place in a near future where neural implants devised to help people (at first those with various disabilities, later anyone with money) focus without distraction. When those with the implants, 'Amps', start exhibiting advantages over regular non-implanted folk, a backlash ensues, and threatens to grow to a civil war.

In the midst of this, the protagonist tries to make sense of it all, while learning that he's one of thirteen unique individuals who were implanted with a little something extra.

Fun read, which can optionally offer some deeper food for thought for those that want it.


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

During the whole Harry Potter craze, I had so many friends telling me I just *had* to jump in, that I got put off an decided I would definitely not read any of them. Then recently my younger son asked me to read it to him, and that was that.

Verdict: It's passable, formulaic, and somewhat fun. Great for kids, but for adults there is SO much content out there that would be time better spent.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Book Review: The American Way of Eating

I rather enjoyed The American Way of Eating though it's one of those books that you find yourself partly wishing you hadn't read. Ignorance is bliss, etc.

The author, Tracie McMillan, spent a year "undercover" (I place it in quotes because she was sometimes honest about what she was up to, other times not) working in America's food chain. The book chronicles her time spent working in crop fields in California, in a Walmart produce department in Detroit, and at an Applebee's in Brooklyn.

Through all of these, she covers three elements: the role each plays in our food distribution system and how it has evolved over time, the people she meets and how they live and work, and her own attempt to survive on minimum wage (or less).

There are also some 'side trip' portions where she examines food stamp programs to encourage produce consumption, urban community gardens, etc.

Through these, the book is sort of a mash-up of Nickel and Dimed, and Fast Food Nation. Like both of those, it's both an engaging read and strong social commentary. I learned a lot and the book will affect how I look at food and how I choose to consume it.

Consider reading it, it's an important book.

The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee's, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table

Thursday, March 7, 2013

A Tomb Raider anecdote, and attracting wider audiences

This is an anecdote, not data, so take it at that. Still, it's a story I like telling.

Years ago, while at Matrox, when the first edition of Tomb Raider came out on PS1 and PC. We and other graphics hardware vendors all helped Core Design do custom builds of the game ported to our proprietary 3D APIs (these were the days before DirectX, or at least before DX was deemed viable). A couple of the engineers on my team there did the port, and I even got in and helped a bit (it remains the only commercial game for which I actually worked on the source code).

Anyhow, the end version, running on the Matrox Mystique, was something I was quite happy with and showed my wife (then girlfriend) at home, despite the fact that she doesn't play games - certainly 3D action adventure ones.

She was smitten with it! A female lead character, exotic environments, exploring. Wow! She asked to play.

I sat her down and helped her through the tutorial. This is how you turn... look... jump... climb... swim. She wouldn't get out of the damn pool on the tutorial. "Ok, you can get out now". "but it's so pretty! This is so cool!"

She finished the tutorial and started the first level. A pack of wolves is the first threat you encounter. I tell her what to press to draw pistols and fire. A loud yelp as the attacking wolf falls to the snow-covered ground.

"You have to SHOOT A DOG?! I don't want to play this anymore"

Needless to say, she has not purchased Tomb Raider's 2-through-N.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

The beginning of the FB decline?

While blasphemous to say so, I've been saying for years that Facebook is not "too big to fail" despite the perceived lock that network effects give them.

Anyhow, an interesting piece I came across recently that might indicate the beginnings of then end. maybe?

The age of the brag is over: why Facebook might be losing teens

"Augmediated" reality

This article from a 30+ year veteran of wearing computer-augmented vision systems offers a number of provocative ideas about ARs potential.

It covers a number of interesting uses (Always-on recording , alternate spectrum views (thermal imaging), spectra-mediated views (HDR or other ways of still seeing in shadow even w glaring light)), as well as some of the problems of such systems (camera mis-alignment, etc)

Good read.