Star Trek turned 50 last week. Growing up in the 80s and 90s, Star Wars was a three-movie series. It expanded with novels by Timothy Zahn, video games like Tie Fighter, Dark Forces, and Rogue Squadron, and eventually Episode 1. This was Star Trek time. A movie and TV empire.
Two feature films, Star Trek V and VI, came out while The Next Generation was still in its original run. Deep Space Nine and Voyager began shortly thereafter. Enterprise wouldn’t start until 2001, when Star Wars was back as a film franchise, prequel malaise or not. And Discovery will begin in 2017, the first time Star Trek will appear on the small screen since Enterprise finished its run.
Star Trek shows off a future that takes on challenges. It’s a future that imagines humanity coming together in ways that we can’t imagine in 2016.
Sometimes it’s a lighthearted mystery…
— Rock Paper Shotgun (@rockpapershot) September 8, 2016
…other times it’s a serious examination of the law.
…or a look at morality.
It could take a light look at historical figures…
…or put their life outlook into relief when considering the idealized version of the future
Armin Shimerman may have put it best earlier this month. Star Trek is science fiction with wild technology and fantastic stories, but when it comes down to it, Trek is about the message.
— Star Trek (@StarTrek) September 2, 2016
Happy birthday, Star Trek.
I remember when I got my first camera phone. It was a flip phone. It was grey. And I put it through the wash the first week (it dried out and worked fine, aside from my voice sounding distant at times – note that was the only phone incident I had until someone ran into me so hard my phone fell down and shatter a decade later. I learned well after that first mistake.).
It didn’t seem necessary. What would a little camera do? What it could do was change my world. Growing up I had always had cameras – little AA powered or crank contraptions that took either 35mm or that really weird looking 110mm film. One of those cameras looked like a Ninja Turtle.
It introduced me to the concept of the watermark.
(The era of printed dictionaries and the Trapper Keeper.)
A couple feature phones later and those camera phones had become indispensable. And then, after a niche group of business and government employees used phones running Windows CE and the BlackBerry OS, the iPhone made pocket computers an industry.
As a Verizon subscriber, I waited, And waited some more. Was intrigued by Android and the Nexus One (GSM only) but not really the Droid (DROID!) phones. And with the Nexus S I joined T-Mobile and the smartphone revolution. Google has been a big part of my life since finding it in what must have been 1999 (the search the convinced me was for “super mario borthers” – yes, misspelled – but Google found what I wanted anyway).
The Nexus S, Android, and Ice Cream Sandwich introduced me to smartphones. And it was great. Internet wherever I was. Apps. Short battery life. Well, nothing is perfect. And through early 2016 Android was all I ever knew for my phone experience.
I’d set up my parents with iPhones. I’d had an iPad loaded with textbooks during law school. Tip: don’t scan textbooks. I’ve had Macs. I’m not anti-Apple. But being on the bleeding edge with Android, with a Nexus or Cyanogen rom, always felt like I was a step ahead. Mobile payments, NFC, QR codes, multi-tasking, sharing from app to app, keyboards that let you swipe type. All things that Android was the first mover for.
And I kept swapping phones as a hobby. Nexus S to Galaxy Nexus to Moto X to Nexus 5 to OnePlus One to Nexus 6 to Nexus 6P. Honestly, huge props to Swappa for making it possible for gadget geeks to buy and sell phones easily. I’ve used eBay and met people from Craigslist and it always came with a “hold your breath” moment because someone might flake out or just get angry about a small detail. So have a plug on the house Swappa.
With every Android phone, every OS release, I felt renewed. I was wowed. I was believing that this time things would work perfectly. The camera got better. Stutters became a thing of the past. Battery life…would have its moments. With the Galaxy Nexus there were times when navigating, while plugged into my car, that the phone would actually use more power than it was taking in.
All the while, Apple, slowly but surely added features to iOS. Multitasking, keyboards, a robust notifications system, widgets (almost). And the iPhone was treated to a large screen, although the top and bottom bezels make that phone itself larger than something like the Nexus 6P despite comparable screen sizes. Yes, they keep making the phone thinner instead of adding more battery. Yes, it defaults at 16GB of memory and Apple remains stingy with RAM too. But designing the phone top to bottom seems to give the iPhone an edge even when the hardware advantage isn’t clearly in Apple’s court.
So at the end of March I set out on an experiment: I picked up an iPhone 6S Plus and planned to use it for a month to see what it was like on the other side. I thought I’d take notes, record all the difficulties switching between OS and phone worlds. But that never happened. Essentially every app I used on Android was available for iOS except for Sleep as Android but Sleep Cycle was a fine replacement.
Getting credit cards to work in Android Pay took a loophole with my bank but Apple Wallet loaded them straight away. Not that the 6P had lots of failures with tap-to-pay, but I’ve had zero so far with the iPhone.
I’m not really using any Apple apps either – aside from the Wallet and Messages. Gmail, Chrome, Inbox, Keep, Maps, Hangouts – all my favorites from Google are available. Plus the indispensable Slack and Twitter apps. It’s almost the dream that the early iPhones hinted at: Apple hardware and Google software. Heck, with the Motion Stills app Google makes the neat-but-hard-to-share Live Photos universally accessible by exporting them as GIFs. Seriously Apple? That was an easy one.
The rumors are that the next iPhone will drop the headphone jack. As a non-audiophile who only uses cheap headphones and cares about battery life and being able to charge and listen at the same time, there’s a chance the 6S is my first and last foray into the world of iPhone. Needing a separate pair for my phone and laptop would pretty much be a non-starter for me, but we’ll see what actually happens.
In the meantime, the grand experiment had an unexpected result: it sold me on the iPhone the same way Google sold me on Chrome. The browser is the primary app these days on laptops and desktops. For phones and tablets, it’s the browser and apps. When those are cross platform, it doesn’t matter what operating system you use, everything can follow you from one to the next.
After wrapping up 2015 it’s time to look ahead with a few predictions for 2016.
- Star Wars: The Force Awakens will become the highest grossing movie of the modern era (so not the inflation-adjusted overall champ). This is still a 2015 leftover really, but the franchise has ascended to new heights and together with Marvel could represent an amazing run of large film franchises over the next decade.
- The Red Sox will win 100 games. The 2015 season may not have been successful but then offense was at the top of MLB – with very little from Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez, and Rusney Castillo – and the rotation and bullpen have been rebuilt.
- Google I/O 2016 features a formal announcement of the ChromeOS/Android hybrid plans. What it ends up being as a first step: Chrome extensions for the Android version of the browser.
- I’ll let this next one extend to CED 2017: smart anklets. Like a FitBit for your foot. Free up the wrist and offer an alternative to the “watches and wearables” model we’re in.
- Disney announces a fifth movie in the Indiana Jones franchise with J.J. Abrams at the helm. After doing a alternative history with Star Trek, and a continuation/handoff with Star Wars, this will be a recasting but still exist within the Indiana Jones continuity. Maybe even before Temple of Doom, which was actually a prequel. It won’t, however, be an origin story – Dr. Jones will already be Dr. Jones.
- Neither the Democratic or Republican presidential candidate will choose a running mate from among his or her primary rivals.
The year of Back to the Future is over. Marty and Doc’s universe featured Hoverboards that, well, hovered, rather than the scooters that exist in our world. But Star Wars came back. And so did Mad Max and Jurassic Park. While I didn’t write as much here as I would have liked (this one post at the eleventh hour), I helped out at Banished to the Pen and The Sports Post. The Red Sox didn’t make it easy to follow baseball this year.
So to correct for that, a series of picks, in no particular order, to sum up the year twenty-fifteen…
— Culturalist (@Culturalist) December 30, 2015
- #TheDress is blue and black.
- Best board game I played this year: 7 Wonders
- Great music: Scott Bradlee and the Postmodern Jukebox
— WCVB-TV Boston (@WCVB) April 11, 2015
- The Red Sox had a disappointing season, but won a 19-inning marathon
- More music: the final show of Sheezer is a good listen (if Weezer cover bands are your thing)
- I watched the original Terminator for the first time
- And watched the Patriots win another Super Bowl
- Upgraded my phone to the Nexus 6P, the first Android phone that really doesn’t feel like compromising from an iPhone
- The Toronto Blue Jays had one heck of a 7th inning
- Star Wars: The Force Awakens (it was good!)
- Switched from a MacBook to a Chromebook Pixel (great hardware, keyboard.)
- Played a lot of Rocket League
- Sold my car and subscribed to ZipCar
- Kept reading the Joe Sheehan Newsletter. If you like baseball, subscribe.
- Baseball book of the year: Molly Knight’s The Best Team Money Can Buy
- Quote of the year: “It’s true. All of it.” – Han Solo
- Found out the the Clone Wars cartoon is everything the prequels could have been.
- I finally won my fantasy baseball league…only took 10 years!
As we approach 2015, the year Marty McFly and Doc Brown travel to in the second Back to the Future film, a date that seemed wildly ambitious to young children dreaming of Hoverboards (what? almost sort of real?) everywhere, I have been thinking about the time that has passed between the presentation of an image of the future and history catching up.
Through a quirk of technological boredom, I swapped my out trusty MacBook for a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 two months ago. I’ll write more on this later, but one of the primary motivations for the switch was that replacing one old Mac with a newer model just didn’t excite me. This is definitely within “first world problem” status, but laptops, tablets, and phones are personal devices. They are extensions of our minds and bodies and with the variety of offerings, every person can pick a model to his or her choosing without issue, so might as well make the choice count.
But what makes a new MacBook? It’s thinner. And faster. And lacks legacy drives and ports. It’s a fantastic machine. But it is essentially the same as the first notebook computers I saw as a kid, 486-powered beasts that they were. The Surface may only be dazzling me with it’s differences, but for now, if that’s all it is, it’s enough.
The somewhat new site JSTOR Daily sent me on this little thought carousel. JSTOR, a database of academic journals and articles, has it’s issues, and that rabbit hole is vast, but this effort is one that I fully approve of: taking old content and bringing it back to attention through new pieces. That’s it. Write something using the vast library of research as a starting point and place of support and then get to work.
The topics have been wide ranging – economics, gender equality, history, and maps – along with many more, like pirates.
But the article in question was (Un)Catalogued: Reading the Landscape. Written by historian Megan Kate Nelson, the piece looks at her exploration of New Mexico as part of research for a book. As great as the read is – and the information about a river moving over time causing havoc with limited maps of the area – the quote that got me was:
I am not the first historian to have done this, and to write about it. And I am quite skeptical of the “hallowed ground” notion that one can “feel” the past by standing in a historic place. When I visit these sites, I’m not out to get a visceral connection to history. I’m there to get a sense of the landscape, to make links between the documents I’m reading and at the images I’m looking at, and the places in which they were produced.
It’s a viewpoint I don’t always share. Visiting Pompeii was amazing. I felt something walking those roads and looking in the ruined buildings. Walking down the streets of Palo Alto and being within spitting distance of the HP garage was exciting but not in a hallowed ground way.
More than anything though, I thought of Captain Picard teaching Data about the emotional connecting humans get being up close and personal with history. Touching the road, door, chair, or missile.
PICARD: Isn’t it amazing? This ship used to be a nuclear missile.
DATA: It is an historical irony that Doctor Cochrane would use an instrument of mass-destruction to inaugurate an era of peace.
(Picard feels the Titan V rocket)
PICARD: It’s a boyhood fantasy, Data. I must have seen this ship hundreds of times in the Smithsonian, but I was never able to touch it.
DATA: Sir, does tactile contact alter your perception of the Phoenix?
PICARD: Oh, yes. For humans, touch can connect you to an object in a very personal way. It makes it seem more real.
DATA: I am detecting imperfections in the titanium casing. Temperature variations in the fuel manifold. It’s no more real to me now than it was a moment ago.
People have taken to smartphones like they have few other devices. While it’s just a thought in my head, though potentially there is research out there, some part of that must be touch. These devices that are essentially just screen have captured babies and the elderly, teens and their parents, college-aged kids and those who are calling themselves adults for the first time.
Historical sites can cause a notion of something else just by setting foot at the location. Touching a device or artifact adds another layer. Just imagine how different museums would be or could be in the future where sculptures and paintings could be felt through some type of holographic projection.
In the end, I’m left with another curious thought: does Cypher’s speech in The Matrix:
You know, I know this steak doesn’t exist. I know that when I put it in my mouth, the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious.
align with Dumbledore’s parting words to Harry Potter:
Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?
Image copyright Paramount Pictures, 1996.
Google is back at it: driverless cars. In the age of Uber and ZipCar providing (nearly) pushbutton access to transportation for a fairly reasonable fee depending on your need, the driverless car sits atop the pyramid of transportation evolution.
One device combines the evolution of technology that began with the invention of the wheel. The driverless car is also the most impressive computer technology using sensors, maps, internet-connected computing – and that’s just to drive the car, not including creature comforts.
Like the idea of the horseless carriage that preceded the automobile, the driverless car has been much hyped and anticipated despite the early stage in the development process.
A who’s who of car companies is working on the technology as well, but the search engine giant has grabbed most of the press while boasting about the progress the technology has made over the years, the miles the cars have driven, and more.
But this is the first time we have seen a Google Car. While the press release indicates the parts are off-the-shelf and the company is working with partners, seeing a stand-alone vehicle, rather than a modified Toyota feels like an exciting step forward. Eventually Google, and the automakers, will need a car built to be driverless in order to really take the technology to the next level. Sensor placement and designs that work for a traditional vehicle, which places the main sensor package in the driver’s seat, do not need to be hard and fast rules for car design.
I’ve thought and written about driverless cars and their potential impact on society before, and as the technology gets closer the more I think about what it would be like to just summon a car – either my own or a taxi-type service – whenever I need a ride.
One issue with ZipCar, and rental services in general, is that the vehicles need to be returned to certain places to make them available once more and prevent the accumulation of cars in places they are unlikely to be checked out. Of course from time to time you can make an arrangement to pick up at the airport and drop off at another location, but normally the car is docked at a single location and you need to return it from whence it came. This problem goes away when the car can drive itself.
One crazy possibility with driverless cars could actually help bring the Amazon drones to reality: a drone carrier van. The idea that drones will be flying many miles carrying the types of products that are often ordered online, which can be large and/or heavy, has a few holes. But imagine if Amazon had a system of driverless vans roaming across cities and towns, carrying the items most of the way by truck, and then launching the drones for the “last mile” delivery. This could let larger packages be delivered by drone without needing to carry a fifty pound box thirty miles through the sky. Once the package is dropped off, the drone just returns to the van.
The number of tasks that can be managed by a driverless car, which can in turn reduce traffic, limit the need to large parking lots, can be a big step towards the sci-fi vision of the future that so many of us have in our heads.
Before Morgan Freeman made a silly movie the bucket list concept was making waves. Books like 1000 Places to See Before You Die were popular back in my days working at a bookstore. People like having a connection to something larger than themselves. All of society of based on that principle. Having a checklist of places you’ve visited is handy and marking them off the list or a map from time to time gives you a feeling of accomplishment.
When Facebook first began allowing extensions on the original homepage, before the News Feed, it seemed like everyone had enabled the world and United States map to show off the countries and states they had visited.
Hardball Passport has taken this to the challenge of ballpark visits. Not just keeping track of which parks you went to but how the games turned out.
In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Brothers” Data, the android, meets his creator, Dr. Noonian Soong. As Dr. Soong attempts to explain his desire to have a legacy, he walks Data through the decision tree of parenthood and history.
DATA: Old things?
SOONG: Old buildings, churches, walls, ancient things, antique things, tables, clocks, knick knacks. Why? Why, why?
DATA: There are many possible explanations.
SOONG: If you brought a Noophian to Earth, he’d probably look around and say, tear that old village down, it’s hanging in rags. Build me something new, something efficient. But to a human, that old house, that ancient wall, it’s a shrine, something to be cherished. Again, I ask you, why?
DATA: Perhaps, for humans, old things represent a tie to the past.
There are moments in life mean different things to different people, but everyone has a few tucked into the back of their mind that they wait for, prepare for, and hope will cross their path in the future. Something as simple as a voice modulator or a fan: you have to do a Darth Vader impersonation. Or maybe Christmas tree shopping lets you break out a Linus speech. Maybe you finally get a chance to correctly chime in “Dude, you’re getting a Dell!”
One of these white whales for me was the cellular peptide cake. With mint frosting. Going back to the Star Trek well, there is an episode where Data has a dream that features an appearance from Counselor Trio as…a cake.
As someone with very limited art skills recreating anything that needs creative efforts is often beyond my skills. I can muddle my way through things from time to time. I can make a normal cake. But when it comes to the artistic effort, my final results often turn out like Homer’s – nothing like the picture in my mind’s eye.
Taking up this challenge was on my bucket list. And this weekend I set myself to the task. One box of funfetti, some frosting, and several bottles of food coloring later, I completed my masterpiece:
In addition to visiting the Star Trek Experience before it closed, including walking on the bridge of the NCC-1701-D, this is another large item crossed off the bucket list. And the cake tasted pretty good too.
That was then
Ten years ago today the Boston Red Sox won their second straight game against the Toronto Blue Jays. They didn’t know it at the time, but the winning streak would last five games. Well before The Trade, things were going well enough.
That game was started by Pedro Martinez, won by Anastacio Martinez, and saved by Keith Foulke.
Manny Ramirez hit a home run. David Ortiz and Mark Bellhorn scored runs. Kevin Youkilis played in his fifth major league game.
Ted Lilly struck out 10 in 5.2 innings but his bullpen failed to deliver on the “Ted Lilly always beats the Red Sox” curse.
This is now
Tonight, the Red Sox will play the Toronto Blue Jays in an attempt to prevent losing their seventh straight game.
Jon Lester, who was nearly traded prior to the 2004 season for A-Rod, will be playing the role of ace that Pedro did so well a decade ago.
David Ortiz is still on the team, the sole remaining player from the 2004 club.
Opposing the Sox will be Mark Buehrle, a veteran in his own right.
Ten years ago things went well enough for the Red Sox. Maybe tonight that echo of a boxscore will penetrate Fenway Park and end the current slump.
Or their talented players will do what talented players do – win.
When the rumor mill exploded last week with news that Apple may (or may not) have acquired Beats Electronics to add executive talent, a new streaming music service, and of course, headphones, to Apple’s already strong music business, a spotlight on the changing face of the music industry was lit up once more.
For a long time, artists stayed away from allowing their music to be used for advertising purposes. Commercials featuring an artist’s music were considered to be “selling out” for decades. Until somewhat recently when the trend reversed.
What started as a small sample in the 1990s turned into a boom for musicians in the post-Napster era when alternative revenue streams – outside the labels – were in demand.
Apple itself ran a series of successful ads for iPods and the iTunes music service – the ones featuring dancing silhouettes wearing the iconic white earbuds – that were received quite well. Advertising a music service and player with popular music seems like a no brainer, but it’s possible that Apple considered this ad campaign even more seriously. Steve Jobs himself is believed to have had individual control over the song selection. That’s a power both equal parts kingmaker and tastemaker.
Their latest effort uses Gigantic by the Pixies and highlights the iPhone as a tool for creativity as a musician, rocket launcher, and indoor astronomer. The Apple spot debuted on April 22, just before interest in the Pixies shot up on Google Trends.
As I write this, one of the most well known commercial songs, Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon”, which featured in this Volkswagen commercial plays in the background at the Starbucks. Referenced in the Time piece linked earlier, this seemed appropriate to include. I only know the song from the commercial, but as soon as I heard it, I thought back to the ad. It’s a poignant spot with four (teenagers?) kids driving through picturesque scenery to a party only to decide it’s just not their scene when the journey ends…and they set off again. I recalled the entire ad in a second.
Music is a powerful motivator and suggestion. It’s a companion at the gym, a friend on a long commute, and a background presence during many events of our lives. But wait, there’s more! All of these qualities make songs powerful components of advertising campaigns.
The Guitar Hero and RockBand franchises were built on this foundation.
If Apple buys Beats, it would be a high-profile acquisition of a brand that has recognition comparable to Apple itself. It’s not Lala, the fledgling music service, or PA Semi, the chip designer. Beats has customers, loyalty, product spotlight and recognition. It has music executives and musicians. It’s crazy, but for a company that has put so much into brand and commercials, right down to the artists it featured for iPods at the time when that was the biggest stage anyone could hope for, this might work out in ways no one can foresee yet.