Saturday, November 27, 2010

Your living room will never be the same again

I want to talk about the Kinect today, BUT this post is NOT about video games. Even if you're not interested in Xboxes, Kinects, or video games in general, you may still want to read this because the point I'm making (I'll get the mystery out of the way right now) is that the Kinect is not a videogame controller. Whatever it's marketed as, it's really an interface test, and one that suggests the future really is going to be awesome. It's the beta test for the scifi living room.

For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about Microsoft has just released a device called the Kinect which attaches to the Xbox. Using cameras, infrared detectors, microphones, and sundry other "sensors" the Kinect is capable of recognizing body movements and sounds. Speak and the Xbox will hear you. Wave your arm and your onscreen avatar will wave its own arm and I don't just mean "an avatar," I do mean "your avatar" since the software behind the Kinect is capable of recognizing individuals. It's motion control without the remote. The Kinect is being compared to Sony's Move controller and Nintendo's Wiimote. I do not believe this is an appropriate comparison. They're playing in the same market, for now, but they're not the same thing. I think Microsoft was making something else entirely, and it all hinges on that phrase "without the remote."

This was supposed to be the future, goes a common joke, I want my jetpack. I want my video phones. I want my voice-controlled computers. I want my "Minority Report" gesture control. Well, four out of five isn't so bad. We'll keep working on the jetpacks, but in the meantime, the Kinect prototypes all those other things (and quite a few more)

Sure, you can play games with it - some of them are even fun - but the real point is that you can control your Xbox with it. The games are incidental.

I call it a prototype and a beta test because right now it has bugs that need to be ironed out. A video game system is the perfect place to start such a technology. No business will accept such bugs, not if they have to pay for it, but market it as a game and suddenly people will line up for the thing. They'll deal with the bugs because they're having fun. They'll complain, and Microsoft will listen. They'll be delighted, and Microsoft will listen to that, too. They'll play with this new toy and Microsoft will learn enough to turn that toy into a tool.

The Kinect has already been hacked. It took less than a week for clever programmers to write whole new purposes and functions for the Kinect. Microsoft initially released a statement condemning such hacks. At the time, I thought it was a legal CYA: If someone figures out how to infiltrate the FAA and take over airplane flights by holding out their arms and making buzzing noises, Microsoft could always claim "we told them not to." That initial opinion was reinforced when a Microsoft employee admitted they're not actually going to do anything about the hacking, that they are, in fact, delighted. But just the other day, Microsoft made a third clarification: they ARE delighted, they do want people to continue what they're doing, but what they're doing isn't hacking per se. The so-called-hackers are using the outputs without modifying the internals. That's fine, says Microsoft, please continue, the other stuff is still illegal. So now I just think it was supposed to be an IP CYA and someone in the R&D department failed to notify the legal department that the rest was highly desirable. It's free research from the masses. It's crowdsourcing (although disorganized and organic). I'm sure Microsoft has someone taking notes about, devising applications for, and learning from every new hack that gets posted on the net.

And there are already some pretty exciting things out there:

I'd expect that Microsoft is pretty excited about that one, but I'd also expect that they've been working on that exact interface before they ever released the Kinect to the public. Consider that Microsoft is the same company that produces the Microsoft Surface, a multitouch interface designed for use in a public/group setting. The lessons and applications learned working on the Surface will almost certainly translate well to the Kinect, and vice versa. The big difference is that the Kinect can do it in three dimensions.

Now consider that the Xbox already permits DVD watching, as well as access to Netflix, Twitter, and Facebook. The update that allowed the Xbox software to handle Kinect integration was the same update that added access to ESPN 3. I am certain that this is not a coincidence. It's one more incentive for people to interact with this new device, one more thing people can do without hunting for a remote. Once people are comfortable with this in the living room, it won't be difficult to move it to the office, or anywhere else for that matter. Once people are comfortable with this in the living room, they won't want to operate any other way.

I'm really looking forward to the future. Jetpacks can wait. This is cool now.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

My Best Year Yet

My 30th year has come and gone. Not far gone, mind you, but gone nonetheless. Age, however, has come up in a few conversations recently, and I felt like weighing in. One friend recently referred to his birthday as "my extremely late twenties." Another has now had several twenty-ninth birthdays. I told another friend I was excited she was turning 100000 (in binary of course), but she didn't answer me so maybe she didn't think it was as amusing as I did.

When I turned 30 I received several comments suggesting I have now suddenly gotten "old." This is expected. The vast majority of birthday cards available seem focused on aging as something to be avoided, hidden, or pitied. A problem, in other words. I try to avoid them, largely because I don't see aging as a problem.

I'm quite proud of it, to be honest. It is my stated goal to live forever (or die trying) and every birthday is another step closer to that goal. Not everyone gets this far and I consider each birthday a success to celebrate, not a black mark to fear.

I've said it before, but 30 is the kind of number that scared the hippies. It doesn't worry me much. Especially considering it was pretty much the most eventful year of my life to date. Thirty was a really good year for me. It was FULL of things I should have blogged about. I didn't, though, because I was too busy DOING them. Here, then, is a list of the awesomeness (because I like lists AND I like awesomeness):

1. I earned my Masters Degree
The day after I turned thirty, I acquired a Master's degree. All the work happened before my birthday, but the actual degree came as a birthday gift.

2. I traveled across country with my brother
I was helping him move from his own grad school to his job with the National Forest Service fighting forest fires in Wyoming. Along the way we saw New Orleans, visited friends in Houston, bar hopped in Austin, wandered down the Riverwalk in San Antonio, delved in to Carlsbad Caverns, took our cousin to see the Painted Dessert, the Petrified Forest, and the Grand Canyon, participated in a bachelor party in Las Vegas, and spent time with our grandmother in Utah. It was a hell of a trip.

3. I moved to Syracuse, New York
First there was the move and the unpacking. Then there was the living there. I got to know the future in-laws much better, managed to go home more often, ate some delicious food, experienced a real winter for the first time in almost a dozen years (I've mentioned my opinions on winter before), and learned more about the retail industry than I ever expected to.

4. I went to Germany with my fiancee and the Penrocks
Fantastic. We saw castles in the Romantic Rhine (intact and otherwise), spent several days in Munich, and toured around Bavaria while staying in beautiful Leutasch Valley. Sarah has several posts explaining just how much fun this was, starting here.

5. I helped plan a wedding
This involved much planning as well as several trips to the beach that were "absolutely necessary for research purposes"

6. I had a [censored] awesome bachelor party
We went to [censored] where we attended [censored], saw [censored], toured a [censored] or two, and of course, plenty of [censored]. The whole thing was just [censored].

7. I got married on the beach
We could not have had a better day. It was perfect and delightful and amazing.

8. I spent a week in San Francisco on our honeymoon
We spent the first half in the city doing SF tourist things like Alcatraz, the Exploratorium, the Wharf, as well as various hidden and fun spots recommended by my cousin. We spent the second half in wine country, at a more relaxed pace. Again, Sarah comes through with the blog posts. Wedding here, honeymoon here.

All before I turned 31.

Like I said, it was a ridiculously awesome year. I can't wait for the next one.