The Four Glassmen of the App-ocalypse

Today we’re talking about the four most popular app ideas for Glass: Contextual Consumerism, Glass Docent, The Cloud Nurse, and Augmented-Reality Nametags. These are seriously popular ideas. If you asked a hundred people what they think Glass is for, I guarantee that 95 will name one or more of these. I call them the Four Glassmen of the App-ocalypse.

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Vine: The Best Worst Use Case For Wearable

The most revolutionary, game-changing, and human-enhancing app for wearable tech also happens to be the most dangerous. This app is Vine, the six-second video recording service.

Why is it the best app for wearable? Because text sucks on a HUD. If you called up instructions for changing your oil, a set of short, quick-cut videos (in first-person, naturally) will beat the hell out of paragraphs. You don’t need to interact with it, it gets to the point, and it’s self-explanatory. Vine on wearable means having mentors at your shoulder, literally showing you what to do.

A wearable is also the perfect device to capture a Vine. You get a stable first-person camera, a gesture to control the shot (Vine only records when you’re holding a button) and the ability to be super-impulsive about recording your Vines. Whatever your job, hobby, or talent is, you can show others how it’s done without really bothering. It’s a killer app because it makes using and sharing expertise trivial.

Why is it the worst app for wearable? Because the camera is a trap. Simply wearing a camera is disconcerting to others, especially when they know you can record video any time. Six seconds is enough to take anything out of context. The fear alone is enough to raise lynch mobs against wearables.

Let’s not forget that entertainment is always a Faustian bargain. For every video that shows you how to execute a perfect stir-fry flip, there will be a hundred worthless clips of cats. A clip with lifesaving CPR instructions will be buried under idiotic gag comedy, videos of food, snaps of television, and the mounds of dreck that unfocused people insist on proliferating. Of course, don’t forget the porn. As soon as porn becomes possible, you’ll never be able to call up a video without people jumping to conclusions.

Vine is the best and worst app possible for wearable. With hardware-enforced limits on content, it links human minds together more tightly than any possible technology. Without it, it brands every wearable user as a perverted snitch while obliterating hours of their time.

Which Dumbs**t Put a Camera on Google Glass?


The majority response to Google Glass should have been, “That’s cool and geeky and I don’t want one.”

But put a camera on it and everyone loses their minds. The response is “People will violate my privacy and I can’t allow others to have one!”

All I want to know about Glass is, which Google X management committee decided to include a camera? I’d bet it’s the same bunch that’s backpedaling and prohibiting face-recognizing apps.

It sure wasn’t their all-star industry experts. Steve Mann was manhandled in a McDonalds for having a camera bolted to his face. Thad Starner owes his academic accomplishments to his totally camera-free wearable computer.

Cyborg technology has its own challenges to overcome. It needs a UX. It needs apps and use-cases. It needs to overcome the Bluetooth Douche Crisis. Even developing and manufacturing the things is a war. Why pile the white-hot privacy issue on top?

The privacy debate has completely stolen the wearable spotlight. No one talks about apps or appearance – the chatter is all about “big brother” and covert shots of women’s asses. The anti-Glass group Stop the Cyborgs should rename itself People Against Wearable Cameras – their blog is a laundry list of privacy concerns with the occasional mention of FOMA.

Banning facial-recognition apps isn’t enough. The damage has been done. Google Glass is inextricably linked with a hive mind that will take your picture when you’re drunk, post it on Google+, and forward it to your boss.

The worst part is that this backlash will carry over to other wearables. Camera-free competition, with the emphasis on productivity versus snapping your lunch, will inevitably arise, but people will stick their hand in your face to block the nonexistent camera.

The wearable camera might be the lowest-hanging fruit of wearable, but it’s rotten to the core. Stick with improving productivity and cut the camera. Show people why they should use a wearable, and don’t give them a handhold to campaign against it.

Your Internet of Things Platform is Pointless

Here’s something I rant about that’s becoming A Thing: wireless hardware platforms. I’m talking about the Electric Imp, Pinocchio, and SparkCore, little Wi-Fi development units closely tied to a proprietary cloud system. A hardware designer develops a connected device around the platform, getting a microprocessor, cloud infrastructure, and chipset without having to develop from the ground up.

The whole concept sucks.

First elephant in the room: How incompetent are you as a design engineer if you need an all-in-one processor/RF daughterboard? TI’s new CC3000 chipset, the WiFi silicon that powers at least the SparkCore, is astoundingly sophisticated and abstracts out the most fiddly bits of wireless. Modules from Roving Networks, Bluegiga, TI, STM, etc etc offer massive ease and power. Why gamble on a prefab module that costs a fortune per, when you should already have the manpower to design your solution in house?

Second problem: Why do you need someone else’s cloud infrastructure? These are internet coffeepots and synchronizing scales. 99% of Internet of Things devices communicate entirely in plaintext, and the remaining 1% that need rich media should be apps instead of hardware in the first place. An entire paperback is 100kb tops. If your product explodes and sells an astounding 50,000 units in the first year, you ought to afford and maintain 5GB of EC2 bandwidth.

The third problem’s aimed at the investors and founders – where is the business model in a connected-device platform? Network economies? Nope, unless you manage to convince your development partners to make their products interact. “Being the next Arduino?” Cute, although Arduino doesn’t make a cent off derivatives. That burgeoning hardware startup scene? Bro, do you realize what you’re saying? You’re staking your entire professional success/reputation with LP’s on people who’ve never brought a hardware product to market! You should know better – you’ve just brought your own product to market!

Let’s not forget that the Internet of Things doesn’t run on Wi-Fi! It runs on Bluetooth! Connected devices (FitBit, Bluetooth headsets, Google Glass) are eating Internet of Things (WiThings, Philips’ goofy Smart Bulbs) for lunch. There already is a hardware platform that provides wireless Internet, rich computation, and a personal touch – a smartphone. And that doesn’t need your goofy cloud infrastructure.

Mini-Project: Dangerous Prototypes FT311 Build

Dangerous Prototypes, my favorite hardware-hacking rock band, gives out the PCB’s left over from their prototyping process. It’s a clever promotion and I love free stuff, so I snagged one of their PCB ‘coupons’ a few weeks ago and built a breakout for the FTDI FT311, an Android-to-damn-near-everything bridge. Check it!


The FT311 is an Android Open Accessory host, which means it gives Android apps full-speed access to circuits. Through this, I can build an app that talks to UART, SPI, I2C, or plain old I/O – this thing lets me connect my phone to virtually anything.

Dangerous Prototypes’ products are almost all surface-mount, so I used the same special prototyping tools I use for client work. I applied Zephpaste solder paste (amazing quality, easy to clean, and made in America) with a fine-tipped syringe, and populated components I ordered from Mouser.


To solder the joints, I busted out The Hotness, my custom reflow oven made from Hurricane Sandy salvage. The board took about 20 seconds at 170° to reflow into beautiful, factory-perfect fillets.


I added the USB port and through-hole headers manually. In a factory, the reflow oven has infrared lamps with programmable hot spots that would give the USB port extra heat. Technicians would also use a wave solderer to zap the headers all at once. But grandpa-style worked fine – this took about 20 minutes start to finish! Perhaps new features for Hotness 2.0?


Also, big shout-out to Panavise, makers of the goddamned handiest circuit tool around. If you build a board a week, a Panavise will change your life.


Cyborg Racism and Virtual Lynch Mobs

Last afternoon in Paris, University of Toronto professor Dr. Steve Mann became perhaps the first victim of cyborg bigotry.

While eating with his family at the Champs-Elysees McDonalds, Dr. Mann was accosted by three employees. In front of Mrs. Mann and her children, the uniformed men destroyed his property, ate his food, attempted to pry off his implants, and manhandled him onto the street.

Unless I’m very much mistaken, this is the first account of an unprovoked assault on an augmented human. Dr. Mann has inadvertently become something of a cyborg Rosa Parks, and how his case plays out will set precedents and draw lines in the sand.

Without a doubt, the McDonalds employees were bizarrely violent and will be fired like any employees who assault customers. The interesting part is why they did it.

Dr. Mann’s setup isn’t Google Glass-style wearable computing, and it isn’t Accelerando-style augmented reality. His is a sousveillance or personal-vision device, purpose-built to capture and broadcast point-of-view video. His assailants knew this – after all, they read his ‘doctor’s note’. What worried them, and what will inevitably convict them, was that they and their restaurant were recorded, transmitted, broadcast, critiqued semi-automatically.

On one hand, Dr. Mann got detailed first-person video, or at least high-resolution pictures, of the entire incident, which will ensure justice. On the other hand, the assailants clearly were not comfortable being monitored. Although the law is on Dr. Mann’s side, and the taping was legal, doing so is not in good taste.

His altercation, free to proliferate on the Internet, rapidly incited a virtual lynch mob on Reddit, held at bay only by Dr. Mann’s smart decision to block his assailants’ distinguishing features. Fans wasted no time in digging up as much contact information about the restaurant, and its employees, as possible.

So what to make of this? As usual, the future will march on. If the market demands that wearables be camera-enabled, then physical privacy will vaporize as inevitably as music protection. It will be unstoppable the same was as texting while driving is unstoppable. No justice system can handle ubiquity. Perhaps in the near future, malfeasance of all types will be dispersed as readily as Dr. Mann’s story.

But the other side of the story still stands. People value their privacy, regardless of the relentless technological march. If technology like Mann’s becomes commonplace, clashes like Mann’s will rise as well. Cyborg racism will ignite on Capitol Hill as well as bars, restaurants, buses, and anywhere people once expected to avoid remote judgment.

My only hope is that as stories like begin to break, cyborgs share Dr. Mann’s foresight, letting systematic law,  not virtual lynch mobs, enforce justice. We must remember that it takes more than evidence to convict – all the first-person crime video in the world is a liability in the hands of vigilantes fueled by righteous anger.