Watching Election Results With Tears In My Eyes


Republican presidential candidate, businessman Donald Trump stands during the Fox Business Network Republican presidential debate at the North Charleston Coliseum, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016, in North Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

Republican presidential candidate, businessman Donald Trump stands during the Fox Business Network Republican presidential debate at the North Charleston Coliseum, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016, in North Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

I have become a political junky of late. I’m sure I’m not alone but it’s getting worse. I’ve always been fairly interested but as a “damn foreigner” unable to vote my opinion never mattered. I have watched the GOP campaign with fascination turning into horror…and I can’t look away.  I arrived in the US on a permanent basis about 20 years ago. As a Brit I had only a passing understanding of US politics but as I learned more much of it didn’t seem to make sense. Coming from a multi-party political system I was used to poor people grouping together to further their interests just as the wealthy band together to protect theirs. I was a kid during the Labor administrations of the 70s which led to coal strikes and power blackouts. As a lefty punk-rocking teen I watched in horror as Margaret Thatcher then Ronald Regan seized the reins of power. I understood what caused the backlash which led to Thatcher and I assumed it was similar in the US.

When I arrived here 16 years later we were in Clinton I and things looked pretty decent. Still some things didn’t make sense. Why were poor white people such fervent supporters of a party dedicated to furthering the interests of the rich and powerful? Why such a political fascination with women’s reproductive health….an issue which has been beyond politics in Europe for decades. What I was missing was the race factor. In the UK we have had racial problems of our own. Back in the 60’s there was a significant influx of people from the Caribbean countries which were parts of the Commonwealth. These people tended to jobs which Brits had no interest in but there were protests from the skinhead sector. In later years there were several waves of immigrants from India, Pakistan and Uganda. Each of these was met with some disruption but on the whole it was all fairly civilized. In more recent years the barriers to entry from Commonwealth countries have risen and the barriers to living and working for anyone in the EU have essentially been removed. As a Brit I could live and work freely anywhere in the EU….no papers required.  This long history of immigrants settling and blending (to one extent or another) has routinely been met with racially based resistance from mostly white working class folk who see them as “taking our jobs” and “polluting the culture.” It was a vocal minority with extremists on the far right getting headlines rather than traction. We muddled along, we even replaced Fish and Chips with Curry as our national dish. People with limited education and job prospects were typically the most impacted but as immigrants (especially those from the Indian Sub-Continent) integrated and succeeded those complaints were less vocal. I have somewhat lost touch with the story back home now, but from what I can gather from regular visits these factors remain a concern but a manageable one.  Europe has significant problems caused by the nightmare in Syria, globalization and automation has hit low skill jobs there too but none of that prepared me for the US.

I simply didn’t have a frame of reference for the kind of systemic endemic racism and resentment which haunts significant parts of the US zeitgeist. In 1865 the Brits were drinking tea and building an empire as the US tore its self apart. We don’t teach the US Civil War much in UK schools. We do cover slavery but since we outlawed it in 1833 and our economy was never as completely reliant on it as the US was it felt very remote. We didn’t have reconstruction, Jim Crow or the Civil Rights Movement. The political developments of recent years has been fascinating and shocking. The ascendency of “Mr.” Trump has been eerie to watch. To see the level of xenophobia, misogamy and good old fashioned racism which has driven his ascent is very disquieting.  I realize I’m not breaking new ground here, but as a foreigner who has the advantage of being white and (passingly) educated who has come to love the US as I do, this is like discovering that the woman of your dreams was never really that into you and was cheating with her ex all the time. It makes you question what you thought you knew…it’s scary and sad. My profound hope is that if we stack all the liberals, all the LGBT folk, all the kinksters, all the immigrants who can vote, most of the people of color, most of the women and men who think rather than hate into one pile, that pile will be bigger than the pile of angry white men and bigoted white people who have found their perfect vehicle to protest history.  I don’t know anybody who says they are voting for Trump but then I don’t know anyone who is openly racist or anti-female equality either. The privacy of the voting booth allows people to express their truth in secret. Am I optimistic?…yes, but I’m also scared.

Back In the Saddle

It’s been a few months but I’m back in the blogging groove. There’s been a lot going on.  We continue to make good progress growing our lead generation businerss based on search. The market continues to be complicated with Google dominating search.  The strategy Google alluded to more than a year ago as a potential fix for their ever increasing query volume but ever decreasing average price per click seems to be paying off. Clicks targeting a product or service and a locality (think plumber San Diego) continue to climb. As you may know we focus on an ROI based approach where we purchase and manage exposure through our platforms and turn that exposure into results we get paid for. Search is central to that. Other media represent additional opportunity. Display advertising can now be readily targeted to locality but in our (and others) testing display has proved pretty disappointing in attracting end users who are looking for that specific product or service and are ready to “call now.” Social media is more encouraging and certainly more effective than straight display but again it lacks the immediacy of search. The traditional high bounty markets (insurance, home security health) remain strong but the major brands are getting increasingly sensitive to how and where they are exposed to media which again makes the right kind of targeting trickier than it used to be.

Against this changing and challenging background we have seen a couple of dramatic changes in our society which are overlapping into our world. As you probably noticed the US has acquired a significant new problem in prescription drug abuse leading to heroin addiction in many cases. More people are dying from drug overdose than road traffic accidents. It’s a fairly recent change and it’s one that has impacted a much wider range of Americans than the cliché drug addict.  It’s a horrific and growing problem. The rules governing insurance were changed a couple of years ago with the goal of treating ‘behavioral health’ like any other chronic condition. If you ask any recovery facility how that’s working you will likely get a very angry answer. It’s not working well, yet…but it is better than it used to be with about 85% of recovery treatment costs being paid by insurers. What’s interesting here is that the entire process of finding the right kind of facility, matching it to the patients insurance and ability to cover any copayments is an arduous and time consuming mess. This industry is just about where hotels were ten years ago. The other point of note is that the process of finding help is done through search but transacted largely over the phone. People call facilities and facilities talk through their options. It’s search driven pay per call with very large bounties, much larger than traditional industries. We see this as a great fit for our platform and expertise and we are pursuing an initiative to address this rapidly expanding market. I’ll keep you posted on progress.

CES 2016: A Place for the Insane and (Sometimes) Useful Technologies

CRB_1271The international Consumer Electronics Show, held annually in Las Vegas gets underway today. This popular show gathers tech companies, reporters, advertisers and analysts for one giant sprawling series of events dedicated to showing off thousands of new gadgets.

The CES typically offers a mix of cutting-edge tech products that range from exciting and potentially world-changing to insane ideas, with a likely mixture of both. However, most of the time, the CES offers an excellent window at the big new trends in consumer technology that companies hope will be successful in the coming year. Some technologies, like 3D TV or ultrabook laptops, have fallen completely flat. But others, like virtual reality and 4K TV, are steadily making their way into our living rooms.

What are some of the things we should expect to see this year?


The year 2015 was a big one for wearables. The release of the Apple Watch, updated Android Wear OS and new versions of the Pebble Watch made their way to our wrists. This year, we could see many of the same themes: fitness tracking, notification serving and always-connected will likely play a big role in the new year. Most of the wearable tech present at CES in 2016 will take the shape of small gadgets. But those looking to make a statement have no shortage of options either.

Virtual reality

It looks like 2016 will finally be the year that consumers will be able to get their hands on powerful VR headsets. Major players in VR like Facebook-owned Oculus and Sony-owned Playstation VR will drum up pre-launch buzz at each of their CES booths by showing off some of the most advanced headsets on the planet.

Smart Homes

At this year’s CES, almost all of the Tech West hall will be covered by new smart home gadgets. Products that are compatible with Google’s Nest Learning Thermostat, Apple HomeKit, Wink, and Thread are expected to be there in numbers.

Driver-less Cars

Driverless cars are set to come onto the scene in a big way. Appearances from Audi, BMW, Chrysler, Hyundai, Mercedes, Toyota and more could bring some interesting features to the car industry in their own right. Chevy and Volkswagen are expected to unveil new electric automobiles. And Ford might be looking to unveil its Google-powered self-driving cars.


A newly designed drone from Amazon was revealed for its fleet of proposed delivery drones in a video posted to YouTube. The new Amazon “hybrid” drone can switch between flying like a helicopter and airplane, and has a range of 15 miles, according to the company.

Times have changed for drone technology. As recently as 2014, there were only four exhibitors at CES that were offering drones. This year, there will be 27 different exhibitors, with a massive marketplace taking up a large percentage of the showroom floor. Today’s demands for drone technology is that they have advanced sensor arrays that monitor the environment, keep them from crashing, remain in legal airspace, and make flying them easier.

The Possibility of Pliable Electronics


Panasonic has recently developed a soft, flexible, and stretchable polymer resin insulating film which stretches 2.5 times its length and returns to its original shape. It can be folded and adapts to varying free-form surfaces, as to reducing existing design constraints.

The possibilities for this type of technology could be endless! For an example, it would enable the construction of soft and stretchable electronic devices that are adaptable to various forms such as clothing and the body. This would open the window to many wearable technologies, and make clothing “smart” clothing.

Overcoming the Numerous Challenges

Polyurethane and rubber materials need to overcome challenges associated with adhesion, heat resistance, and the fact that they are brittle. Panasonic’s insulating material, made of thermosetting resin, is, both flexible and stretchable.

Devices implemented on clothing or worn on the body should be made of materials that withstand repeated use and allow no change in mechanical properties even after repeated deformation. In normal circumstances, materials subjected to repeated stretch and restore would tend to degrade in mechanical strength and recovery performance. Going beyond simple softening, Panasonic employed a unique resin design technology that makes optimal use of the characteristic three-dimensional cross-linked structure of thermosetting resin. By relaxing internal stresses arising from stretch, the newly developed insulating material returns to its original shape and withstands repeated use

Usually, copper or other metal wiring would break when its base material stretches or contracts. Due to this problem, it is not easy to use metal wiring to form complex circuits. Furthermore, metal fatigue resulting from deformation makes it difficult to achieve metal wiring that withstands repeated stretch. Panasonic has developed a technology to combine a stretchable resin as a binder with a silver filler. The result is conductive paste that retains a conductive path, hence conductivity, even after stretch and restore.

It will be interesting to see where this technology’s future lies, and how it will evolve over time.

The Internet of Things in 2016


For 2015, it seemed as though the world around us got a whole lot smarter. We are now experiencing “smarter” homes, cars, and things we use every day. What will 2016 bring?

Market demand shifts from consumer to enterprise

The IoT reached everyone’s consciousness in 2015 a little more than it did in 2014. For the coming year, many industries will want to get ahold of these IoT. Away from the slightly gimmicky consumer applications such as smart homes and intelligent vehicles, connected technology has the potential to truly reinvent a wide number of industries, which can benefit from a huge range of advantages provided by IoT technology.

“While the Internet of Things hype reached its peak in the consumer markets this past year, 2016 will be the year of IoT in the enterprise market. Currently, we are seeing a slump in sales for the once buzz worthy, consumer IoT devices, such as fitness trackers, whereas just the opposite is happening for commercial IoT products,” explains Jason Shepherd, director of IoT strategy and partnerships at Dell.

He continues: “As companies begin understanding the value of IoT, commercial IoT solutions will gain traction and the enterprise will emerge as the largest market for IoT adoption.”

The importance of security

All of these things, and all of the data they produce, will need to be secured, and safely stored, in order to ensure both businesses and customers stay protected. The new connected IoT world will also need to ensure that consumers have the information they need to make educated decisions about the products they purchase, including the level of security offered by new products and solutions.

Big Data will become more profitable, and even bigger

More and more data is being produced by the increasing number of devices connected to the IoT. Now the challenge is to determine what to do with it. It has been forecasted that there will be 6.4 billion connected ‘things’ used worldwide in 2016, which means there is a huge amount of ‘big data’ being created each day, all of which needs to be analyzed and stored.

This explosion is also creating a need for further investment in IoT infrastructure, as more bandwidth and power is needed to cope with all the information.

The communication between technology and humans

Wearable technology offers the most direct way for us to interact with the IoT, providing a wealth of useful information that can then be uploaded and analyzed.

Wearable technology can play a big part in industry, allowing workers to quickly visualize and analyze situations without the need to be in danger or at risk. Heads Up Displays (HUD), smart gloves, and wearable cameras all have the possibility to revolutionize working in a wide range of industries.

The evolution towards the “Internet of Everything”

The IoT could soon be directly affecting every point of our lives. From health to work to travel to entertainment, the possibilities are truly endless.

The Attack of the Drones


This past Monday marked the first day that drone owners could register their drones with the FAA. And while it is expected that many drone owners think that they can get away with not registering, the program is somewhat of a success as the FAA has seen 45,000 registrations within the first 48 hours.

If you own a drone (or any model aircraft) that weighs between 0.55 pounds and 55 pounds (including payloads like cameras), you now have to register with the FAA. Registration will be free until January 21. After that, it’ll cost $5. Registrations are valid for three years and if you don’t register, you risk penalties of up to $27,500 and even up to three years of jail time.

The FAA announced that “The agency has seen strong initial demand, with more than 45,000 registrations completed since the site opened for business Monday afternoon. According to industry estimates, as many as 400,000 small UAS could be sold during the holidays.”

However with 400,000 drones estimated to be sold and in addition to the number already available, 45,000 seems like a drop in the ocean but a good sign all the same.

Understanding the Evolution of the Universe Through 3D Printing


When you think of the capabilities of 3D-printing technology, you might think of iPad stands, guitars, lawnmowers and cars. However, a physicist from the University of California, Riverside is using the technology to understand the universe a little bit better. How it is structured, the evolution of cosmic structures within it, and galaxy formation.

“These problems in cosmology are very difficult to visualize, even using computer graphics,” said Miguel Aragón-Calvo, a visiting assistant researcher in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. “By 3D-printing them I am able to interact directly with the models and ‘see’ the problem at once. In some cases this results in ‘eureka’ moments.”

Aragón-Calvo is trying to develop an automated method to identify and track the cosmic web across time in computer simulations.

“This is usually done by identifying structures at different times and then somehow linking structures in adjacent times,” he said. “Current techniques using this approach are far from optimal.”

By 3D-printing a simpler 2D simulation and assigning the third dimension to time he realized that this was in fact the solution to his problem.

“Tridimensional cosmic structures can be easily identified and tracked as four-dimensional objects where time is taken as another spatial variable,” he said. “Even though I had visualized the cosmic web many times before in the computer screen, the solution only became obvious once I held the model in my hand.”

Aragón-Calvo believes that tactile information gained when holding a model of a problem in the hand plays an important role in how we understand the problem.

Google’s 2015 Year-In-Search

google-year-in-search-2014In prior years, nothing gets people Googling quite like the passing of a celebrity. But in 2015, some of the most searched-for deaths in the U.S. weren’t famous people at all, but regular people who died while in police custody.

Google released its annual roundup of what the U.S. searched for this year. They aren’t the top searches by volume, but top “trending” searches, meaning they saw the biggest spikes.

People We Lost

The third most searched for death was Sandra Bland, an African American woman who was found hanging in her jail cell in July, three days after being arrested during a routine traffic stop. Freddie Gray, who died from spinal cord injuries while in police custody, was fourth on the list. The passing of Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown’s daughter Bobbi Kristina topped the list, followed by longtime ESPN anchor Stuart Scott.

Biggest Searches

The most searched for topic overall wasn’t someone who died, though he came close. It was former basketball player and Keeping up with the Kardashians fixture Lamar Odom, who was found unconscious in a brothel in October. Not all searches were morbid. The top trending searchers of the year were mostly on lighter topics:

  1. Lamar Odom
  2. Jurassic World
  3. American Sniper
  4. Caitlyn Jenner
  5. Ronda Rousey

Breaking News

As big news stories unfolded, people went to Google for updates and answers. Google Trends dug into the top global stories this year, with an interactive graphic that looked at how the stories spread around the world and the most pressing questions people had about them.

Google’s biggest news story of the year was Paris. When terrorists attacked the French city on November 13, people around the world asked “What happened in Paris?” “Why did ISIS attack Paris?” and “Is it safe to travel to Paris?” There were more than 897 million searches related to the Paris attack.

Netflix Plans to De-clog the Internet’s Bandwidth


At peak hours, Netflix makes up a whopping 37% of all internet traffic in North America, which is a huge congestion problem. Now it appears that it may have found an answer.

Netflix has been quietly testing a new way to deliver all the streaming content on its servers, without sacrificing video-quality for movies. Each episode of “The Office” was encoded at several different qualities which could shift according to variations in a customer’s connection. That way it can max out on the actual quality the viewer sees without causing artifacts or pixelization. Years ago, when they adopted this algorithm, Netflix developed what’s called a bitrate ladder. Some of those gains come from changing that up and compressing things like cartoons down further and more efficiently, while making sure that things like action movies still get all the love they deserve.

Without seeing this plan in action, we can’t yet say whether the process truly makes for a better or worse viewing experience; maybe the difference is as indiscernible as Netflix claims. But that “one-size-fits-all” fixed bitrate ladder didn’t account for scenes with high camera noise film grain noise, meaning that even a 5800 kbps stream would still “exhibit blockiness in the noisy areas”.

Netflix is now busy re-encoding its entire library, which is a massive undertaking. Also on some slow connections the video quality often dropped to 480p. Previously, the same watcher would have just been able to watch the show with a resolution of 720×480, and still used more data.

As a whole, the new model should give Netflix customers better-looking content while using 20% less bandwidth.

The Future of Human Skin Detection Technology


For the purpose of locating people in aerial search and rescue operations, color-image based systems are excellent, but simply fall short when it comes to differentiating between actual human skin and objects with similar hues. To overcome this problem, researchers at the Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT) have developed a novel two-dimensional feature space which uses the spectral absorption characteristics of melanin, hemoglobin and water to better characterize human skin.

Spectral imaging systems use information from the entire electromagnetic spectrum to provide digital images with much greater information per pixel than traditional cameras. Feature spaces in a spectral imaging system are vectors that numerically represent an object’s characteristics.

The AFIT research team used feature spaces to key in on specific constituents of human tissue by using a skin index concerned with how water and melanin’s presence in skin manifests at two different wavelengths in the near-infrared region. These changes would cut the overall cost of hyperspectral-based search and rescue systems to a seventh of what they currently cost.