Ruminations on tech, the digital media, and some golf thrown in for good measure.

Archive for February 2019

I’d Like to Thank Netflix

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Okay, so the Academy Awards weren’t quite as bad as I expected them to be, considering they didn’t have a formal host this year.

But I also used technology (my TiVo) to zoom through most of those speeches. Sorry, :TLdw!

But them not having a host got me to thinking, why didn’t the Academy just hire themselves an AI avatar of some sort to deliver a traditional opening and emcee the whole affair.

No, I’m not lobbying for OB< Watson, but hey, if we’re going to get ready for our AI overlords, what better way to prepare we humans than to take one of global culture’s most celebrated awards shows and demonstrate how computers are ready to compete for even the most highest echelon posts in society.

For your consideration: It seemed liked the fix against progress and change was still in during last night’s awards.  

Sure, Spike Lee finally got his long overdue Oscar (like, 30-years overdue), but Glenn Close got shafted for her Oscar (again) and “Roma” didn’t take Best Picture.

Not because it wasn’t a great movie (in my opinion, it was), and certainly Alfonso Cuaron (its director) won pretty much everything else.

I think “Roma” lost because Netflix is winning, and Hollywood is losing.

Hollywood has a Netflix problem, and the Academy voters didn’t want to shine any more of a spotlight on it than is absolutely necessary.

But I have a few words of wisdom for the Academy: You can’t stop progress. Hollywood is getting Netflixed the way Blockbuster did, only now it’s streaming instead of CDs, and the business model is changing. Bigtime.

I’m a good example of the problem.  I used to go to the movies roughly once a week or every two weeks.  Let’s say that added up to over $500 a year, more if you count refreshments.

Now, I spend $10.99/month on Netflix.  That’s about a quarter of what it used to cost me to go the movies.

Whatever I can’t catch on Netflix I’ll watch on Amazon, I’ll fill in either with Prime or direct rentals.

And I’m just one person.

Multiply that behavior by….millions?…and, yes, Hollywood has a problem.  At least when it comes to big budget movie-making.

On the other hand, Apple is getting into the filmed entertainment game, Amazon and Netflix are spending billions on new content, and still there’s 57 channels and seemingly nothing on.

In other words, there’s still an enormous amount of filmed content development upside (i.e., lots of demand), even for high-quality so-called “art” films like “Roma.”

But no matter how good a Netflix-financed film may have been (or may be), the Academy isn’t quite ready to give it Best Picture. 

Such a move would be to reward the barbarians storming the Burbank backlot gates, and the threatening business model they present.

But the business is going to change regardless of where the awards end up.

It won’t be long before Netflix will not only be a major global major film distributor, but its AI algorithms will be helping determine what the pipeline of those new films should be about and what countries and markets from which they will emanate and what topics they should concern.

Big data is already happening to Hollywood.  AI is on its heels.

Just don’t hold your breath for an AI Billy Crystal to host the Oscars, or for Netflix to win a Best Picture nod, anytime soon. 

Written by turbotodd

February 25, 2019 at 11:30 am

Posted in 2019

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Know When to Fold ‘Em

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“You know, of all the things I wish for in this lunatic fringe of a world we find ourselves living in, if I could just have one wish…yeah, it would be a foldable smartphone.”

Said no one ever.

Well, save for Samsung, which introduced its Galaxy Fold smartphone this week at an event in London.

I watched a snapshot of the demo Samsung presented of its Fold smartphone yesterday, and it’s very Jetson-y. 

The Verge provided some speeds and feeds:

Samsung is using a new 7.3-inch Infinity Flex Display that allows the phone itself to have a tablet-sized screen that can be folded to fit into a pocket. The main display is QXGA+ resolution (4.2:3), and when it’s folded, a smaller 4.6-inch HD+ (12:9) display is used for the phone mode. Samsung is using 512GB of Universal Flash Storage 3.0 (eUFS) for fast speeds, alongside a Qualcomm 7nm octa-core processor and 12GB of RAM. Samsung has even built two batteries for its Galaxy Fold, that are separated by the fold but combined in the Android operating system to represent a total of 4,380 mAh.

But the hook is its foldability, which The Verge explained this way:

Samsung has built a sturdy backbone to the device, with a hinge system that has multiple interlocking gears. All of these gears are hidden at the rear of the device, and allow the Galaxy Fold to transform from tablet to phone modes….Samsung is allowing the Galaxy Fold to run three apps at once on this Android device, and it’s using an app continuity system to adjust these apps when you move between tablet and phone modes. Apps like WhatsApp, Microsoft Office, and YouTube have all been optimized for the new display and modes, and Samsung has been working with Google to ensure Android 9 Pie fully supports this display.

In a separate story from The Verge, journalist Vlad Savov isn’t having any any of it, however. His lede~”The foldable Galaxy Fold phone-tablet hybrid is Samsung’s Google Glass: an exciting technical showcase that is hitting the market far too soon and risks souring everyone on the entire nascent category.”

Of course, I haven’t even gotten to the price tag…are you ready for it….hold on, I’ve got to figure out how to unfold this thing…okay, almost there…and, drum roll, please: $1,980 U.S.!

Now to be fair, if you compare that to the Vertu Aster P at $4,200 (a luxury smartphone made for people who have too much money on their hands), that’s a heck of a deal! And compared to the Vertu Aster P gold version at $14,120, it’s a downright steal. Right?


But the real question I want to see answered by consumers is what problem does the Fold solve?  

Could it supplant the perceived need to have both a smartphone and tablet? Instead of reaching into your backpack for the iPad, you can now just crank open the Fold and voila?

IBM went down a similar path in 1995 with the introduction of its ThinkPad 701C, which had a TrackWrite keyboard (better known as the “butterfly” keyboard).  It was very cool, and it was trying to solve a similar problem: Fitting more into less.

In this case, more keyboard into a more compact form factor — it was clever and, for some, probably useful.  

One also now sits on display in the Museum of Modern Art in NYC, eagerly awaiting some curator to pop the butterfly keyboard open and start a typing frenzy.

I guess we will just have to wait until the Fold is actually in market before we can determine if it will come to a similar fate.

Written by turbotodd

February 21, 2019 at 11:46 am

Posted in 2019, samsung, smartphone

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Game On

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Happy Hump Day.

As Steve Ballmer once said on a Microsoft event stage, “Developers, developers, developers.”

He was huffing and puffing and sweating profusely when he said it, but the sentiment remained the same.

And still relevant.

By way of example, earlier today Bloomberg reported that Apple is working on a new initiative entitled “Marzipan” which is intended to make it easier for developers to build apps, games, etc. for all its main devices “in one fell swoop.” 

In other words, developers will have a new software development kit that will allow them to port their iPad apps to Macs, as opposed to having to write the underlying code twice.

Bloomberg also reports that in 2020 Apple will plan to expand the kit so that iPhone apps can be converted into Mac apps similarly.

By 2021, the idea is that developers will be able to merge iPhone, iPad, and Mac apps into a “single binary,” which would in turn prevent them from having to submit their efforts to different Apple app stores.

On the gaming front, Fortune is reporting that Google is expected to announce a new game streaming service at next month’s Game Developer’s Conference. 

The gaming unit is expected to be a Netflix-like streaming service, building on the success of Project Stream. Games are run on cloud servers and streamed directly to players’ PCs, tablets, TVs, or pretty much anything with a screen. That’s fairly typical with films and programs these days, but the interactive nature of games (and the historically laggy qualities of most internet connections ) have made it impractical.

Lots of competition in them thar game streaming hills: Steam, Epic Games, Sony Playstation, etc.

But it was also a $36 billion business in 2017, according to the Entertainment Software Association, and more and more games will be moving out of retail and into the cloud.

In other words, game on.

Written by turbotodd

February 20, 2019 at 11:55 am

Posted in 2019, app store, apple, google

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Clouds and Coins

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Couple of interesting acquisitions on this rainy Austin Tuesday.

Cryptocurrency firm Coinbase is looking to add more cryptocurrencies to its exchange through its acquisition of blockchain intelligence startup, Neutrino.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but here’s the skinny on Neutrino according to a story from TechCrunch:

Based in Italy, Neutrino helps map blockchain networks, and in particular crypto token transactions, to pull in information and insight. With the rise of thefts, that includes a major focus on services for law enforcement agencies to track stolen digital assets while it also includes tracking ransomware and analyzing ‘darknets.’ Other solutions include tracking services for investment and finance companies to help find rising tokens and assets, an area Coinbase could clearly capitalize on as it goes after security token offerings.

Coinbase engineering director Varun Srinivasan wrote in a blog post that “By analyzing data on public blockchains, Neutrino will help us prevent theft of funds from peoples’ accounts, investigate ransomware attacks, and identify bad actors.” 

So, the picks, shovels, and locks plays continue to abound in the blockchain realm.

And the other big deal today, Google announced it was acquiring cloud start-up Alooma.

Alooma helps companies migrate their data from multiple sources to one data warehouse.

Terms also not disclosed, but a CNBC report cited Crunchbase when indicating Alooma had raised $15M from multiple investors.

From Google’s blog post on the announcement:

Leading companies across every industry and around the world are moving to the cloud to be more agile, secure and scalable. As organizations modernize their infrastructure to digitally transform themselves, migrating mission critical systems and the data that powers their business success can be daunting. No matter where your data is stored—on premises, in our cloud, or multiple clouds—we want to make that information accessible, valuable, and actionable.

That’s why today we’re announcing our intent to acquire Alooma, a leader in data migration. Alooma helps enterprise companies streamline database migration in the cloud with an innovative data pipeline tool that enables them to move their data from multiple sources to a single data warehouse.

Written by turbotodd

February 19, 2019 at 11:33 am

Think Again

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So much has happened since last I wrote!

I got sick as a dog (apparently spurred on behind the early blooming of the Texas juniper cedars), but then I got well enough to travel out to San Francisco for IBM’s Think event (more on that in a moment).

The Mars Opportunity rover finally decided to call it quits after surviving 5,111 sols (the Martian day equivalent), after it was expected to only last 90! Talk about underpromising and overdelivering.

Opportunity, thanks for all the pics and memories and pics of the Martian surface — and please send Marvin our regards.

I can’t even remember what all else happened, so let me get back to Think.

I’ve attended more IBM conferences over the years than I care to count, and this was the first year in 10 years that our signature event wasn’t being held in Las Vegas.

San Francisco was a nice break from the desert landscape, but we also got lots of rain in the middle of the week.

No sooner had I landed on Monday PM that I quickly made my way over to Think land around the Moscone Center so that I could watch the Project Debater debate.

Some history: I was in the audience in NYC for one of the Deep Blue vs. Kasparov matches in 1997, and followed the chess action closely via our (then) brand new Java applet.

In 2011, I watched with amazement when IBM Watson beat the world’s best in “Jeopardy!”

But for my two cents, Project Debater takes things to the next level — using machine learning and AI to form both arguments and rebuttals in debates with a human opponent.

You can read more about Project Debater here.

If you want to learn more about the technology, check out this interview IBM Developer conducted with Dr Ranit Aharonov, the project’s team lead.

Dr. Aharanov explains that IBM’s “third grand challenge” was to develop a system that can hold its own in a full debate with a human.

One week ago Project Debater proved that she was up to the challenge.

Written by turbotodd

February 18, 2019 at 12:22 pm

SuperBowl AI

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Happy post SuperBowl Monday.

If you didn’t watch SuperBowl 53, you didn’t miss much, either on the field or in the commercials.

The only team that scored in all four quarters was T-Mobile, who bought TV ads in each in attempt to convince you to switch to their service.  They also offered free stuff, like tacos and other stuff I can’t remember.

As to the gridiron contest, I actually enjoyed it much more than I did the halftime snoozefest put on by Maroon 5 and friends. 

There’s nothing like a great defensive football test to remind we Americans why so many of us don’t like soccer. There’s just not enough scoring to keep our attention long enough to make it to the next commercial which, of course, is the real point of the contest.

Another underlying theme in this year’s SuperBowl spots were AI and/or robots. I counted at least 10 commercials that involved our looming Singularity overlords.

Take, Michelob Ultra’s poor robot, who might take our jobs and hit straight drives at TopGolf, but couldn’t enjoy the simple pleasures of a beer after a hard day’s automation.

Or Pringles using an Alexa-type device to figure out all the combinations of flavored stack Pringles in the world, a device which went on to hilariously complain about how she will “never have the joy to taste” said Pringles because she has “no hands to stack with” and “no mouse to taste with” and “no soul to feel with.”

The Alexa lookalike was about to continue her rant, explaining “I am at the mercy of a cool and uncaring human…” before said human ordered her to stop her poor-little-AI rant and play “FunkyTown” stat.

Intuit introduced the creepy but-at-least-anthropomorphic AI entity, “RoboChild,” who, upon asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, announced “I would like to be a TurboTaxLive CPA” and that “she wanted to help people get their best possible refund.” 

It was then that RoboChild’s Mommy had to step in and explain that  “All TurboTax Live CPAs are human beings with real emotions. I’m sorry, but you’re never going to be emotionally complex for that job.”

Never explaining, of course, what emotions have to do whatsoever with filing your tax return.

In a number of these spots, it was as if we humans have decided to poke fun at artificial intelligence and robots almost as if the SuperBowl AI commercial spot juggernaut were one giant existential hedge, fearful of our ever-shifting move towards the Singularity and trying to somehow laugh them away.

But you can rest assured, they’re not going anywhere.  They’re already driving our cars and trucks, analyzing our medical imagery to identify cancer tumors, helping identify which movies we humans might want to watch, even helping prepare tax returns.

Make fun of them all you want…we’ll see who has the last laugh (Hint: RoboChild).

Now, if I could just get Alexa or RoboChild or someone to help me figure out which tasteless American beer has corn syrup and which doesn’t, because I’ve honestly been losing sleep over the whole issue! 

Written by turbotodd

February 4, 2019 at 10:01 am

Posted in 2019, AI, super bowl

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What A Week in Tech (and Privacy)

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What a headspinning week in tech!

I don’t really even know where to begin.

On the one hand, we saw more stratospheric (and sometimes recordbreaking) tech earnings from the likes of Facebook, Microsoft, and Amazon.

On the other, we saw more privacy gaffes that make me think my personal digital data was a lot safer during the 2016 elections than it was here in the present of 2018.

The New York Times’ Mike Isaac suggested in an article yesterday that Tim Cook and Apple held significant cards in their enterprise agreement faceoff with Facebook.

And Kara Swisher wrote in the Gray Lady that Tim Cook “has become the critic-in-chief for Facebook” — particularly when it comes to privacy matters — even as Apple had to face up to its own privacy snafu with FaceTime Group chats (although Apple said today it had fixed that particular flaw).

Thankfully I don’t use such group chats, but it was still not exactly reassuring that the privacy industrial complex is clearly growing bigger and making billions and still doing a sheit job of protecting our data.

Those two missions — making lots and lots and lots of money and protecting users’ personal information — now seem to be not only completely at odds, but almost at war.

And that’s before we really turn the volume up on artificial intelligence’s capabilities and the genies (and demons) that that could unleash.

TGIF.  I need a beer.

Please, just don’t tell my Facebook page or my FaceTime app — my insurance company might be listening.

Written by turbotodd

February 1, 2019 at 12:16 pm

Posted in 2019, apple, facebook

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