Seeing the World Change Through Time-lapse

sdf_2Time-lapse images have taken us on beautiful journeys in the past, and the best ones have likely found their way to your Facebook or Twitter feed. However, a standard time-lapse requires a photographer to park themselves in the same spot for quite some time, recording slow changes in the landscape. Needless to say, it’s a task that requires patience.

However, researchers from Google and the University of Washington found a way to sidestep that requirement, managing to create breathtaking time-lapses without leaving the comfort of their own lab – and the result is pretty awesome.

“Time-lapse mining,” as it has been called, has resulted in a sort of patchwork quilt of images taken by people all across the globe. The memories of strangers were stitched together with one another to make a whole story, resulting in an artistic and educational documentation of the ever-changing world around us.

The team analyzed 86 million photos from social sites, including Flickr and Picasa, and grouped them into landmarks. Then they sorted them by date and “warped” individual photos onto one viewpoint, retouched them a little, and created a stop-motion video showing how a particular landmark has changed over time.

The end product was more than 10,000 time-lapse sequences of 2,942 landmarks, each consisting of more than 300 images. From California to Croatia, they include some of the most photographed landscapes and landmarks in the world. They show seasonal patterns in San Francisco, building renovations in Germany and monument excavations in Cambodia – and that’s just the beginning.

Check out the amazing project:

Leaving Hell: Our Long National Samsung Nightmare is Over

cord-cutting

It is finished. Father, into thy hands I commend my fridge. I’ll probably get more time in the real Hell for that line, but at least our Samsung version of Hell is over. If you are a follower of my Samsung adventure, here are the final short strokes:

When I left you last, my postings about this fiasco on Twitter got me the attention of an actual human in the executive customer support team, and that’s when things came together. Instead of me having to go back to the same 1-800-SAMSUNG number and fight each day anew, I had someone on the inside who stuck with me and held my electronic hand through the next stages. Those stages weren’t without twists and turns. For example (and almost hilariously), they require that you strip the tags off the dead machine and send them a picture of the cut power cable as evidence that the machine will not be resold or go on to cause them more corporate pain. I felt a bit like a colonel in the French Foreign Legion cutting the epaulets and breaking the sword of a disgraced soldier. You are dead to me, now go!

The very nice lady at Samsung fought the good fight, got the refund processed and approved, and finally — a mere three weeks after the service tech confirmed that our stupid fridge could not be repaired — got the refund into my account. The weird thing is that my experience divided into two completely different halves: the part where, every day, I battled my way through various third world call centers, each day explaining from the start, and the half where my social media ranting got me an advocate inside the Samsung Empire who stuck with me through the rest of the process. Good job, Samsung lady.

The other weird thing is that it turns out nobody likes their fridge freezer. When I looked on Amazon for a counter depth, three-door fridge freezer scoring four stars or above, there were exactly zero to choose from. Zero. Every model has fans and every model has enough hate reviews to take the average below four stars. I don’t recall any other major product category which has these characteristics. The most common complaints are that the ice makers are horrible (as was ours), and a shockingly high number of them break catastrophically (like ours did), which leads to a prolonged fight to refund or replace. Good to see that we are not alone. But really, what is going on here guys?

Self-Flying Drone Lily Will Provide Your Selfies

Chris-Gampat-the-Phoblographer-Lily-Drone-1-of-1ISO-2001-550-sec-at-f-4.0

A newly released self-flying camera drone called Lily, described as the “world’s first throw-and-shoot camera,” uses GPS and a tracking device to follow and record your every move. Remote controlled quadcopters require someone to pilot them, which is why Lily, made with sports enthusiasts in mind, can be as intuitive to direction as you program it to be. Simply toss it into the air and let it self-stabilize, and it will trail behind you, shoot from the side, or fly overhead while it captures all the action in 1080p video, or 720p up to 120 frames per second. It also has the capability to shoot 12 megapixel photos.

Lily follows a small tracking device that users can carry or wear on their hand, and it is capable of staying as close as 5 feet away for as far as 100 feet. The camera also tracks users with computer vision to make sure they are focused and in frame.

Makers of the Lily are looking to compete with action cameras like GoPro, however it can only fly up to 25mph, which means it may not be able to keep up in every situation. But this is only the first consumer iteration of Lily, and the builders have big plans for the future of robotic cameras. Lily is currently taking pre-orders at $500 and will begin shipping in February 2016.

An Update from Hell

samsung-food-showcase-refrigerator-product-photos-4

 

It turns out Samsung follows their twitter, so they found my ranting about their service. This is my reply to the nice Samsung lady who reached out and said she would love to help. Apparently, my file is going to be reviewed by Corporate and a “decision on how to proceed will be made within three business days.” Oh, goody. I can hardly wait.

 

Hi Nice Samsung Lady (whose name I won’t mention),

Many thanks for reaching out. I have been wildly disappointed by the process I have been put through by Samsung. The plot so far is set out in my Blog (http://thinkjudd.com/2015/05/01/technology/this-is-samsung-welcome-to-hell/). Subsequently, I have had several more conversations, totaling about another hour of my time wasted.

I gave up on your team being able to find your own 700 reference number to allow you to move this to the refund team. So, I called the service company myself and obtained the essential number. I then gave it to your team, but they were unable (or unwilling) to read the paperwork which I scanned and sent over (attached for your interest). I even included an enlarged scan of the receipt portion. Your team then went on to tell me, in clear terms, that they needed a copy of the till receipt. I pointed out that Home Depot doesn’t issue them; rather, they print the till details on the large sale doc in the top right corner. Surely your guys should know this?

Nonetheless, this still isn’t good enough. So, tonight on my way home, I will divert to my local Home Depot to ask for (and hopefully receive) a “purge document” (whatever that is) to convince your doubting team that I really paid for the fridge. Assuming I get that proof, I confidently expect to be delayed and annoyed by the refund process, and I expect not to receive the full amount in refund.

So far, I have amassed action numbers 412-998-9370, 511-1362-271, 511-137-1308, 413-015-8046, 511-137-7475 and finally 413-0158-046. Oh, and the vital 7001431338. You can figure at least two phone calls per number, at about 20 minutes each, so I’ve wasted about 3 hours of my time trying to resolve this.

Do you have any idea how this makes your gigantic corporation look? I run a company, and if I found this level of bureaucracy and incompetence, I would be firing people by now. The sad fact is that almost everyone I have dealt with has been pleasant and down-right nice in many cases (only Julio really got up my nose). You clearly train well, but your process is broken.

When there was any doubt that it might not be a warranty repair, you were ruthless in insisting over and over that I would have to pay for the visit and parts. When it became clear that this was entirely down to you and covered 100% by warranty, you raised delay after delay: the 700 number, the receipt, the illegible receipt, etc. At no point did you ever call me back when I lost signal on a couple of calls. You never called me back with an update or status. Every time I have to start over in the process, it’s a “Groundhog Day” of customer support. You can’t call it service.

It was not our fault that your top-of-the-line refrigerator we purchased a little over a year ago is faulty and unbelievably entirely beyond repair. Yet, your process and the hurdles you put in the way makes it feel like you think we are trying to cheat you. We obviously aren’t. This is a massive inconvenience and one still not resolved. The irony (if irony is the right word) is that last weekend, we were back at Home Depot ordering new appliances for a kitchen upgrade. This time LG got our disposable dollars.

There is still an opportunity for this to end well, or better in any event. You should, at the very least, circulate a copy of my blog and this note to your customer support management. Better yet, run a simulation. Come collect my broken fridge and put it in the home of Gregory Lee (Samsung US CEO) and have him live without a fridge freezer while your company fumbles around for three weeks.

Microsoft Can Bruise or Brighten Your Ego

2015-04-30-image-19

People have been having a lot of fun with Microsoft’s age-guessing website since it popped up. It may not always be accurate, but one day the tech behind it could be the bane of tweens all over the world. Check it out here. But be careful, it might just rough up your ego just a little bit. Either that, or guess younger and boost it for a while.

The technology that powers the “How Old Do I Look?” app proves that they’re well on their way to developing a system that can block underage users from playing games, watching movies, listening to music, or even browsing websites, that’s been rated beyond their years.

Windows already has some pretty terrific built-in features that parents can use to limit what their kids have access to. Family Safety lets parents do things like enforce time restrictions, block access to specified websites, and prevent app and game downloads. Roll in Microsoft’s cloud-powered age-guessing system, fire up the webcam, and you’ve got the makings of an automated content watchdog that can’t be circumvented by doing something as simple as figuring out a parent’s password. Got an Xbox One with a Kinect attached? The same system could work on it, too.

Obviously they’ll have to build in some anti-spoofing functionality, but they’ve already demonstrated that with Windows 10’s new biometric authentication system. It does a great job of distinguishing real faces from photos and videos; it’s extremely hard to fool.

Microsoft has already shown that they’re willing to take the lead when it comes to DRM and 4K video. If they’re keen on helping Hollywood prevent unauthorized use of its content, why not help ensure ratings guidelines are being adhered to? Advocates of stricter content rating systems would absolutely love to see this kind of thing be mandated.

This is Samsung, Welcome to Hell

Samsung-Banner-Huge

I have a big fancy refrigerator which is a bit over a year old. It’s one of those gigantic, double French door contraptions that currently does everything except keep stuff cold. A week or two back, the top fridge compartment stopped cooling below 54 degrees, which left us with a device actually optimized to spoil food and drink.

Thus began our quest. You start (of course) by calling 1-800-SAMSUNG and you carefully navigate the phone tree of responses and options. Bear in mind that since Samsung doesn’t have any other telephonic points of entry, you get to start at the very beginning and work forward every time you call.

I made three failed attempts to get a human (“Did you know we have FAQs, how-to videos, and lots of other ways to solve your problem online?” Yes having heard that info every time I call, I’m very aware thank you).  My first victory was to get a case number, which I was informed would prompt a local service company to call to make an appointment. They didn’t, so I called back (“Did you know we have FAQs, how-to videos, and lots of other ways to solve your problem online?”) and I got the contact info for the local service people so I could chase them.

At this point, every conversation I had with them opened with, “You do realize, Sir, that your equipment is out of warranty, so unless it’s a failure of the sealed cooling system, you will have to pay for the call out and parts?” Literally every conversation started and ended with this admonishment. Since the fridge didn’t cool, I felt reasonably good about this issue; but since we won’t know until it gets looked at, what choice was there?

Eventually, a nice service tech showed up and after many calls to home base and much tinkering, he informed us that the equipment was “beyond repair” and would have to be replaced or perhaps Samsung would buy it back. Unbelievable. A multi-thousand dollar, almost-new fridge entirely beyond repair. That makes little sense, but hey, it’s their money.

Now the fun begins. If you have ever been impressed with the alacrity a large company can display when it’s selling you an expensive piece of equipment, wait until they have to replace or refund it on their dime. It’s a different kettle of fish. I should add that pretty much all of the many people I spoke to were nice, or very nice. The call center is somewhere very southern, so I’m beset with charming southern accents right out of Dukes of Hazard. At each stage and on each call, I have to re-explain the situation from scratch.

I had to provide proof of purchase (miraculously, my lovely wife had hung on to that in the kitchen junk drawer) and the calling continued. I’m now up to my third reference number — maybe tenth phone call (“Did you know we have FAQs, how-to videos, and lots of other ways to solve your problem online?”) and now I’m working with the important sounding “Executive Customer Service” folks waiting for the technician visit report to be reconciled with the theory of gravity and quantum mechanics.

Then what? Well, it looks like they might give me my money back, in which case I have my beady eye on a nice LG unit. Perhaps they will replace this worthless warm box entirely. Either way, I’m headed back to Samsung hell same time tomorrow (“Did you know we have FAQs, how-to videos, and lots of other ways to solve your problem online?”). Aaaaargh!

Google Glass Round 2?

49391-glass_2

Google Glass seemed to arrive with a bang and then disappear with a whimper. The smart eyewear seemed to always be a hot news topic and offered iconic tech gadget design. For many it embodied the essence of new and exciting wearable technology. However its limited distribution and high pricing caused public interest to wane before the Explorer Program was boarded up in January this year.

The closing of the Explorer program wasn’t about the end of Glass but it graduated from a Google X product to a fully-fledged Google product development. Now we are hearing some information about a new version of Google Glass.

Glass 2, as it has been referred to, is being worked on and will be released soon. Massimo Vian, who is the CEO of the Italian eyewear maker Luxottica, explained his firm’s partnership with Google on the project. He told company shareholders that “We’re now working on version 2, which is in preparation.” Meanwhile a Google spokesperson confirmed that the team is building the future of the product.

With Glass 2 a number of improvements are being implemented. Key enhancements will be a longer battery life, improved sound, better display and a cheaper price tag. By pairing the smart eyewear with more traditional designs it is hoped that Glass wearers won’t be as put off by the bulky framing and ugly design, as was previously the case in some places or situations.

Can You Hear Me Now?

project-nova-google

A few months back, I teased the fact that Google was about to pull the trigger on their plan to become your cell phone provider— and they just did exactly that. They have just announced Google Fi, which is a cellular and WiFi network they say will be the new way to call.

Put simply, they have cut a deal with Sprint and T-Mobile (arguably the worst two networks out there) to piggyback on their cell coverage. It doesn’t end there. They are adding a network of strong WiFi hubs, which will give users Internet access over large areas and the ability to make phone calls over the WiFi rather than cellular service. That neat feature is currently limited to the Google Nexus 6 phone (a phone nobody has bought), but it points the way to the future.

It’s about time. When I visited South Korea about a decade ago, they already had strong and ubiquitous WiFi covering the entire country. Most people could make calls through either the cell service or the Internet connection. The new move by Google means that sometime soon, the average Google Fi user will be paying $50 a month for 3G service, WiFi hot spots and 3GB of data. That’s a considerable savings over what most of us are currently paying. Data you don’t use gets credited back to your account. Finally!

Though it’s still early, it’s likely that this will accelerate to work with all next-gen Android phones. Hopefully this new competitor with very large pockets and even larger ambitions will help stir the competitive pot in the same way that streaming technologies are helping to free us from the yoke of the cable company.

What’s missing is an Apple play in this space. iOS has already lost market leadership to Android. If Google starts bringing out really good smart phones that offer the kind of service we are talking about at these price points, it’s going to be tougher for Apple to stay relevant. Some kind of WiFi partnership with a major carrier (even a cable company) might make a lot of strategic sense, but I’ve heard no rumors to that effect yet.

Testing the Capabilities of 3D Printing

Disney3

Over the past few years, 3D printing has become more common and companies are turning to this technology as it is an effective way of manufacturing products. Disney has recently been tinkering with this technology and conducting experiments, which has led to the creation of a printer that can print flexible and soft products, like that of stuffed animals and the possibility of clothing in the future.

While a paper published by Disney only reveals the idea in concept, the process that it would go through to achieve this would be relatively simple. Interestingly, this would be one of the most-advanced concepts, and would completely revolutionize the way things like stuffed toys are made. 3D printing has come a long way over the course of the last several years. However, previous models utilized plastic instead of other materials like fabric.

This developing technology has cleared some of the arguments that 3D printing with plastic has limited practical applications by using another ingredient to create something new. However, expanding the number of raw materials that can be used in the 3D printing process is incredibly beneficial. No longer are we talking about just using hard plastics. Instead, we’re talking about using fabric, a softer material – and who knows what that could lead to in the future.

The real opportunity here is expanding on something that is quickly becoming mainstream. That’s not to say that this is going to make a 3D printer common in every house, but it will do a lot to actually innovate the world around us and really that’s what this is all about. Disney is innovating in an arena that typically only big tech companies are innovating.

Reasons to Hate Your Cable Company

cable-ap-photo-matt-rourke

Ask pretty much any household about the most hated and most intractable monthly bill; the chances are they will cite the cable company. Even though I live in what amounts to the low desert, where 76 and sunny is the norm and 100 degrees is not uncommon for three months of the year, the cable usually out strips even my electricity bill. Though, I do have whole-house DVR with 60+ Mb up and down and I have to have HBO for Game of Thrones and my very own (made just for me and ten thousand other industry geeks) Silicon Valley. The price never comes down and the quality of service rarely goes up without a corresponding increase in charges.

So, it was with some glee today that I learned of the impact that Google is having on Charlotte, NC and surrounding cities. In response to Google announcing that it will be bringing Google Fiber to those towns, Time Warner Cable announced that it will be delivering six times the speed of the current service for no extra cost starting this summer. Six times faster!

We all know that we are living in a cable monopoly, where we take what we are granted and keep our mouths shut, but six times faster? Really? So now the cat is out of the bag: the cable monopolies are deliberately not giving the US the kind of world-leading internet infrastructure it deserves because they are a monopoly and they don’t have to. Once again, (as in Kansas City a year or so back) Google shows up with great service at a great price and miraculously things get way better almost immediately.

With the rapid growth of streaming devices, you can get a good subset of what you actually want to watch (as opposed to the seven hundred channels of un-watchable ad-stuffed garbage) for a few tens of dollars a month — not the hundreds most of us pay right now. So come on over Google; Riverside County is a great place badly in need of your wonderful cable service. Maybe we can lift the jack boot of Verizon FIOS off our throats.