Writing in the New York Times, Pagan Kennedy offers a brief history of “digital camouflage” in the US military.
“Some people are so rude. Really, who sends an e-mail or text message that just says “Thank you”? Who leaves a voice mail message when you don’t answer, rather than texting you? Who asks for a fact easily found on Google?” This begins a biting and personal piece on the etiquette of online communication by Nick Bilton of The New York Times.
As more bits of information are transferred via social network and text, telephone conversations and emails can seem cumbersome and time-destroying. Bilton recalls a story where, after his father left him 12 unanswered voicemails, papa Bilton “called my sister to complain that I never returned his calls. ‘Why are you leaving him voice mails?’ my sister asked. ‘No one listens to voice mail anymore. Just text him.’ My mother realized this long ago. Now we communicate mostly through Twitter.”
At GigaOM, Mathew Ingram responded to Bilton’s blog post smartly:
I think a larger problem Bilton touches on, but doesn’t address directly, is that we have more competing forms of communication available to us than ever before — and not only are different people at different stages in their evolution from one to the other, but people also use them for very different purposes. So for Bilton’s dad, voice mail is a great way of passing on important information, but Nick prefers the real-time nature of texting or Twitter messaging.
While commenters thought Bilton was too harsh, almost to the point of being rude and insensitive toward his parents, both Bilton and Ingram understand that one must know her audience. Perhaps for our older interlocutors, sending an email or chatting on the phone is worth the extra time, a gesture of respect.
What neither of these writers mention explicitly though, is the notion of not wanting to be reached. I understand how a text or a tweet can be less invasive than listening to a voicemail, but I’m curious about our expectations of availability.
Bilton’s argument is one of efficiency, using seamless communication technology and discarding outmoded mediums. Ingram takes a more sympathetic approach and reminds us that not all of us are Twitter power users. But what about silence? Quiet time? Just because I have a phone doesn’t mean I want to be reached.
When I read these articles I thought of the invisibility feature on Gchat and Facebook messaging, how, at times, I’m in reading/consumption mode, or in the mood to communicate only with a select few. So it’s not that I’m ignoring my parents, or hating on phone calls and older kinds of talk-tech, but realizing sometimes I want to be connected, but not in touch with anyone.
Last week John Broder of The New York Times wrote a critical review of Tesla Motor’s Model S electric car and the charging stations the company installed on the East Coast. Due to unusually cold weather and software issues, Broder’s planned trip from DC up I-95 ended on the back of a flatbed truck. (Actually, the truck drove Broder to a charging station, where he then finished the journey.)
In response to this review Elon Musk, the head of Tesla, wrote a harsh rejoinder to the Times where he accused Broder of purposefully sabotaging the ride. Musk uses charts and graphs to display the car’s locations, speeds and battery life and alleges that Broder failed to charge the car properly, drove at high speeds to deplete the battery, and at one point, spun around in a parking lot—all to kill the car. (Musk is a popular entrepreneur and a technology icon. His other business endeavor, SpaceX, manufactures rocket ships.)
The flame war continues.
Broder responded twice today. His second, more fully developed comeback is evenhanded and earnest. After sketching out his background at the Times and how this car review came to be, Broder goes point-by-point addressing each of Musk’s accusations. Where Musk says Broder drove around in circles, Broder says he was driving around trying to find the electric charging dock. (Much of the car’s lack of range is explained by the cold weather sapping life from the battery.)
And where Musk makes Broder out to be a petrol-Hummer-loving saboteur, Broder merely says, you’re supercharger network kinda sucks.
Writing on wired.com, Spencer Ackerman reveals the staggering number of traumatic brain injuries our soldiers have endured, and the imaging technology that helps doctors diagnose them.
Here are indications of the lingering costs of 11 years of warfare. Nearly 130,000 U.S. troops have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, and vastly more have experienced brain injuries. Over 1,700 have undergone life-changing limb amputations. Over 50,000 have been wounded in action. As of Wednesday, 6,656 U.S. troops and Defense Department civilians have died.
That updated data…comes from a new Congressional Research Service report into military casualty statistics that can sometimes be difficult to find — and even more difficult for American society to fully appreciate. It almost certainly understates the extent of the costs of war.
Trustworthy and conversational, Farhad Manjoo reviews popular fitness apps and food/exercise trackers. His top recommendations are the small and un-cumbersome Fitbit. And for monitoring your diet Manjoo recommends My Fitness Pal.
But My Fitness Pal’s killer feature is its enormous database. The app claims to have knowledge of more than a million food items, from apple strudel to zucchini walnut bread. In my tests, I found it almost creepily comprehensive. It had caloric info on that Cook’s Illustrated meatloaf, as well as a flounder recipe I made from Bon Appétit, and pretty much anything you could ever buy in a grocery and even many restaurants. If it does not have an item, My Fitness Pal allows you to enter your own recipe; for example, you can type in the ingredients of your mom’s apple pie, and it will figure out how many inches a slice will add to your waist.
With the launch of the new Wii U console next week, Nintendo hopes to reassert itself in the gaming world. Writing in the New York Times, Nick Wingfield pits the aged Mario and Link against the hordes of cheap, accessible mobile games. (In this analogy Angry Birds are goombas and skulltulas.)
After Nintendo “posted the first loss in its era as a video games company,” Wingfield outlines the business challenges facing Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo.
Games on mobile devices and Facebook are free or mere pennies. The time investment for users is much lower for mobile games. And the multi-screen dynamic that is increasingly more common in US households (TV + ipad + smart phone) squeezes consoles out of the equation.
(At one point Wingfield says that it can take “minutes” to boot up your Xbox and set up your Halo match as opposed to a few seconds to turn on your iphone’s field runners. This is perhaps a very sad and oblique reference to our country’s pronounced ADHD.)
Citing industry analysts, Wingfield questions Nintendo’s decision to not develop games for android or iOS (imagine playing Mario on your iphone).
The piece is generally optimistic towards the Japanese brand, but it tries to frame the original Nintendo Wii as the company’s last great achievement.
While the onslaught of cheap, downloadable games is eating the console’s market share, Angry Birds will never replace Zelda (with games that are 99 cents, you get what you pay for).
The article helps explain key economic trends that are reshaping the industry.
After writing a post on the fascinating new PPlanter, one of their designers, Julia Schmitt, was kind enough to write in and provide some key details.
Hey there, I’m one of the PPlanter designers. To answer your question about how it works – there is a 5-layer filtration system built into the center module (where the urinal and sink are located) to help capture excess nutrients, pollutants, and salts prior to urine/sink-greywater being pumped into the bamboo planters. Indeed, you’re right – we could use the center urinal module with ANY nutrient/salt-tolerant plants. That’s part of what makes the system modular/reconfigurable as we describe it. For multiple urinal units, we could bring out 10+ bamboo planters, or just locate the urinal adjacent to a large garden, farm, or compost pile as long as there are plants that are nutrient/salt tolerant.
We like to point out that this project will initially be intended for festivals and food-truck confluences. Down the line, once we’ve gotten enough funding, fixed any bugs that exist, and made it more rugged, we could deploy it on streets for more permanent use by anyone and everyone.
If you live in an American metropolis, chances are you’ve inhaled the pungent odor of human toilet. For the homeless and the drunk, the city’s alleyways are makeshift bathrooms. But what if public urination could be used for good?
Designers in San Francisco have that in mind. The PPlanter team has created “a rapidly deployable, reconfigurable public urinal and sink that uses modular bamboo biofilters to treat urine and waste-water.”
As Metcalfe explains:
How does this amazing technology work? In short, somebody who needs to really go – the inventors are targeting beer drinkers and homeless people – holds it in long enough to reach a PPlanter. Guys level a stream into the urinal (ladies, you get the pleasure of using a “disposal funnel”) where a possibly bamboo filtration system converts it into drank that’s delicious for plants.
What’s unclear to me (after reading their Indiegogo) is whether or not the treated pee pee can be used to nourish other plants, or if the PPlanter is merely a sophisticated urinal that is merely a bamboo in a planter pot.
My guess is that, in large public gatherings, dozens of PPlanters would feed a large expanse of greenery, replacing the gag-inducing columns of teal porta-potties.
But even in the less ambitious scenario, having a publicly available waste-water system is preferable to treating the city like a gutter.
For the second time in as many days, you’re going to have to wait to watch Felix Baumgartner free-fall over 22 miles from the sky to the earth.
It appeared as though the daredevil’s Red Bull sponsored skydive from the stratosphere—man, that’s fun to say—was going to go off without a hitch on Wednesday afternoon, but as the wind kicked up, the crew was forced to cancel the mission for the second consecutive day…