Chone and Tell

Google Now is an excellent tool, but sometimes a tricky word or name just won’t be interpreted correctly. For example, the search engine couldn’t understand a voice of “When is Trot Nixon’s birthday?” Nixon, of course, has an unusual family name, Trotman, truncated into a nickname, Trot, so it’s somewhat understandable that Google hasn’t mastered his name quite yet. His full name, Christopher Trotman Nixon, failed too as Google insisted on changing his name to Truckman.

But what about someone with a common name that wasn’t spelled anything like it sounds? Well, saying Chone Figgins results in “Sean Fagan” and “Shawn Higgins” but not the baseball player. Speak more clearly? Didn’t help. Pronouncing his name like it’s spelled (Shown) well that’s a horse of a different color!

Until he retires, and for a few years afterwards, Figgins can pronounce Chone as Shawn, but sooner or later, baseball historians will only know him as Shown. (to be fair his full name is Desmond DeChone “Chone” Figgins)

A Funny Thing Happened to the Rated Rookies

Growing up I collected baseball cards. I heard stories about rare cards, players my dad had that became his favorites, putting cards in the spokes of a bike (which did not translate at all to my generation), and the delight that could be had when looking through your collection as an adult as realizing how many future stars were first admired by you as a child. An entire episode of Full House revolved around a Nolan Ryan rookie card that was discovered, sold for pennies, and resulted in family drama. I imagined that, looking back on my collection, I too would have fabulous memories and make great discoveries. For the most part that was a disappointment.

Many of the players I had never heard of as a kid, say, Cris Colon and Todd Steverson, had careers measured in games rather than seasons. Which is fine enough, baseball is a difficult sport. But I wanted to find a guy about whom I could say “I watched his whole career!” Kirt Manwaring had a relatively uninspiring career as a backstop in the National League, but he at least played for thirteen years. If I had gotten into fantasy baseball earlier in life, I bet I would have known who he was. Calvin Reese is best known for sharing his nickname with Gumby’s horse friend. But I felt like there had to be one star. One guy somewhere in that carefully packaged collection of rookies who would emerge from the time capsule triumphantly.

I didn’t have much trouble paging through my binder to see which former Major Leaguers had done all right for themselves. Tony LaRussa was still managing the A’s back then and in all three of his card portraits he was not wearing glasses. That was a start. Bill Pecota went on to be the namesake for the Baseball Prospectus player forecasting system. Royce Clayton played Miguel Tejada in the Moneyball movie.

Future managers were represented as well with Bob Melvin, Terry Francona, John Farrell, Kirk Gibson, and Ozzie Guillen leading the way. Heck, I even had a Maddox (Mike, who, as quoted on the back of his 1992 Topps was “look[ing] forward to returning to the Murph”). But alas, no star rookie just yet as I returned from the binder to the small box of minor leaguers and prospects.

Until, nearly three-quarters of the way through the small cardboard box, came Edgar Martinez. The third baseman was described as “a disciplined hitter to all fields who drives the ball into the alleys…a solid third base candidate for the Mariners in 1989.” He sure was. Martinez of course would go on to become the standard bearer for the designated hitter, justifying the DH as a position for a baseball player rather than an afterthought of the rules difference between the two leagues. He finished his career as a seven-time participant in the All-Star Game and five-time MVP candidate. Over 145 games in 1995 his on base percentage stood at .479, the 17th highest total for anyone playing at least that many games – and thirteen of the top fifteen spots are held by Bonds, Ruth, or Williams.

Edgar Martinez…My childhood was saved.

Search Plus Your World

It’s no secret that Google has come a long way since Larry Page and Sergey Brin built their first server in a  Lego case . The company has evolved from search and ads to email, mobile phones, and a stable of product offerings and research initiatives in its continuing mission to organize the world’s information. While software could take the company very far, hardware efforts, in addition to those solely for internal use, like servers, have recently gained more focus. The physical world is the next domain for Google to explore: Nexus phones and tablets,  Chromebooks , set-top boxes running GoogleTV (encouraged though not built by Google), Glass, fiber optic cable, and of course, self-driving cars.

It is possible to imagine a life fully contained with the Googleverse. Or at the very least, constantly connected to the Mountain View company via an array of intelligent devices. But what if Google decided to take their grand experiments one step further. What if Google built a city?

Anyone who grew up playing Sim City fondly remembers the  arcologies – stand-alone “cities within a city” – but this isn’t what I have in mind. Not a closed off Googleverse, but a town built from the ground (or fiber) up. A testbed for Google operations and a home for those who want to live on the cutting edge. My model is  Celebration, Florida , a town originally developed by Disney.

  Celebration is a planned city. Rather than growing organically as people move to an area, a planned city is designed and built and then the city exists, fully formed. While Disney did not continue to run the entire project, divesting itself of most operations after Celebration “opened” it had a hand in the design and creation which has lasted past the period of formal operating authority.

Network Effect

A Google city would start with the newest publicly available Google product:  Google Fiber . Fiber is one of Google’s most ambitious products yet, and, given the company’s history, that’s saying something. At its heart, Fiber is nothing more than Google acting as an ISP, but when an ISP can offer speeds of  700 Mbps  for just $70 dollars a month, it’s an ISP making history. The first cities to be blessed with the assault on the cable companies were Kansas City, Kansas and Kansas City, Missouri, with neighboring cities in the area on the  shortlist  for coverage. And Eric Schmidt says there will be  more to come.

Unsurprisingly, this has made some entrepreneurs think “Why not Kansas City?” as they look for places to found and grow businesses, particularly internet startups that can take advantage of a resource not available in many other places in North America. Kansas City (either) may not be Silicon Valley, but getting in on the ground floor for Google Fiber could give the region a  boost  while we wait to see just how interested Google really is in laying cable. At the very least Google Fiber is an interesting hook: a hacker house wired up with Fiber is on  airbnb.

More than just providing internet access and television channels, Google is changing the way their customers  interact  with the living room by including a Nexus 7 as the remote control, the ability to record up to eight shows at a time, and a combined three terabytes of storage – two locally for your content, one in the cloud for Google Drive and the services (formerly Google Docs) contained in that.

And who wouldn’t want to jump ship to a Google-run  wireless carrierConsumer Reports  just ranked AT&T the worst of the big boys, but first place Verizon is not without it’s faults: blocking  Google Wallet  and pushing out software updates  slowly . Working with Dish could provide over the air access to match Google’s terrestrial infrastructure. Though a complete rollout of cellular services would likely be several years in the making, just as with the Kansas City fiber project, even a small scale cellular service would be a shot across the bow at both AT&T and Verizon.

Transportation

In a Google city, you may not need a car. At least, not as you currently do. Moving to Google, USA could mean subscribing to the Google Car service, built on Google’s  self-driving car  project. Think of this as ZipCar on steroids. As part of local taxes/fees etc. residents would pay into a car sharing service. Getting a car to drive to your location would be as simple as opening an app similar to Uber or Hailo. These vehicles might resemble pods more than sedans (think the pods on the villain’s island in The Incredibles) because the purpose would be transportation more than “driving.” Just use your trusty mobile phone or tablet to summon a pod and one will arrive to pick you up, drop you off at your destination, and pick you up later on. Maybe it could swing by the laundromat, your Amazon (or Google) locker, or a pizza place on the way and do some of your errands too.

Maybe everyone would bring their own car (or just purchase a private pod) that could be outfitted with self-drive, but there is opportunity for a unique public transit system powered by the self-driving car technology. Anyone who owns a self-driving car would have much the same experience as the transit method and those who own a “traditional” car would still be able to take advantage of the transit system.

Eye on Life

The gadget that really ties this futuristic city together may not be the cars, bandwidth, or omnipresent internet connectivity, but  Google Glass . Ideally, Glass will be drawing on the voice recognition and suggestion capabilities of Google Now, location information from Google Maps, object (and facial?) recognition to identify places and things within your field of vision, and a host of other Google services. Right now, much of what Glass will be capable of if it finds its way into the hands of consumers in the not-too-distant-future (2014? 2015?) is a mystery. If it can provide a quarter of the functionality of the  concept video , there’s no telling what kind of impact smart glasses could have on society.

City on the Edge of Forever

With a reputation for undertaking projects well outside the box, Google City may not be as improbable as it sounds, but give the Googlers a few more years and every city may end up  looking like Google City anyway. Unlike the Segway, cities may actually be redesigned: roads can be altered for self-driving cars, and billboards can be physically removed to be displayed virtually to those wearing smart glasses. 

A Piece of Glass

In the original Google Glass video the protagonist takes a picture of some wall art and shares it with his circles on Google+ with a simple voice command.

Cool, right? Too bad Google Glass isn’t available right now (Ingress players would probably be over the moon) so everyone could do that sort of thing. But wait: Google updated the Search app for Android. It’s not quite the same, but from the Google Now screen, you can just say “Post to Google+” and a voice prompt appears to take your words and send them along. If you think Google Now is looking more and more like the Glass concept without the headwear, you may not be wrong.