A wild augmented reality appears!

As I went up the hill to get groceries today, from across the street I hollered “Well hey there! I see you’re catching a Pokémon!” to a guy in front of the Bernal Heights library. He barely even turned to look at me as I rolled up but he giggled and replied “Yep, lots of Zubats in this neighborhood!” Just a normal conversation between strangers apparently taking a photo of a blank wall of a public building!

I am level 4, I have an egg in the incubator and am all hot to get to the point where I can fight a Pokémon in my local Pokégym. Sorry but you will all have to get used to people talking like this. Welcome to the future.

As I have played Ingress for the past 3 years a bit obsessively I am very happy Niantic has this massive success. And also proud that some of my portals and photos and descriptions are integrated into Pokémon Go. I still prefer the elegance and game balance of Ingress, and the interesting social behaviors and structures that have evolved for it. (I can go to any city, and find Ingress portals and talk to its players; instant social group.) But I can see cool potential and the greater mass appeal of the new game built on the bones of Ingress data & infrastructure.

I know people will hate on this game for many reasons. It’s popular (yet dorky) for one. It will make people mad that others are doing something pointless. Its selfies will infuriate the grumpy people who hate the idea of self-portraits. People will inevitably walk into buses and off of cliffs and cause poké-stop-while-driving accidents. But I love this moment, the huge surge of cultural awareness as the game spreads. By tomorrow, people will start writing mainstream articles explaining the entire phenomenon or discussing why you should or shouldn’t let your kids play the game.

For me it is a beautiful and historic moment as it feels like a level up for mass participation in a virtual or augmented reality. This has plenty of potential for good and bad. It will spark people’s imaginations, even as it drives us further into ubiquitous surveillance of our location data and habits. Part of the cool thing is it creates a shared imaginary world and a geographic overlay to our real world. Combined with the powerful impulse we have to collect things and know trivia it will be a collective and somewhat guilty pleasure of people who have the money and privilege enough to have a lot of data bandwidth on their mobile devices. And who don’t mind handing even more of their data over to “the cloud”.

We can build strong memories and shared experiences that stay with us for years in game play. That will be enhanced by using the geography of the world around us!

Unlike the bohemian and esoteric pleasures of ARG-ing this is a swift popular movement of millions of people joining the game. It’s huge! I expect it to very rapidly become a placeholder or touchstone for people’s fears and dreams about technology. We will see a sort of mythos develop around it like the way you can see nuances and divisions in how people approach the idea of Minecraft. Something that they use as a container for the idea that young people these days, or whoever, aren’t properly politically engaged or doing the correct things or are sheep following pop culture; and/or an activity that is frightening, incomprehensible, t hat makes us vulnerable; and/or a social technology that could unlock something like the collaborative power of flash mobs.

The first attempt to make a game like this I am aware of was called “Pod” (annoyingly hard to Google) in the early/mid 90s. It was a small handheld device, like a tamagotchi gadget, on which you could collect parts to build little insectoid robots. In theory you would come across other Pod players in the real world at random and could trade parts in order to evolve your robo-insect things. I don’t remember how they communicated with each other. I only came across a random stranger to trade Pod pieces with once, in a mall in San Jose, after many months of carrying it around. The Pod was supposed to somehow be educational about the idea of Darwinian evolution! At the time this game was very exciting, but it didn’t pan out.

Anyway, we aren’t yet all walking around wearing dystopian headsets but I expect more AR overlays to come, maybe historical details so you can step through time on the map where you’re walking, maybe layers that are more artistically complex (though ludic complexity is also art!) or overtly political.

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Pak protector in utility vest

Sometimes when I’m bitching about joint pain Danny points out I am probably becoming a Pak protector. Uncanny since I really love wearing vests and eating sweet potatoes and would love to be the superintelligent fighting machine protector of entire planets, ringworlds, or whatever, while fixing and inventing things and reading libraries full of books.

Anyway, someone stole my tool bag which was crammed full of many years full of useful things. My mini soldering iron and my tiny level and well, nearly everything. The less useful tools are in the house in a tool drawer if you feel like coming to take them to complete my inability to fix things. OMG! Anyway, I have been slowly researching and plotting my new tool collection. Everything will be either very nice, and tiny as possible so it fits my hand and is maybe super ergonomic, or old, well made, vintage tools with really nice heft and design that I will magically find in garage sales and flea markets. I may go with the technique of having several canvas rolls with pockets, inside a big bag without a lot of separate compartments.

Today I went off to go to Workingman’s Headquarters which is that shop run by two old guys in the Mission (planning to just explain my list of tools and trust to the one of them who is nice’s judgement) I had been planning to stay in bed most of the day but the sun came out and I felt so tempted to wander around. Since the shop was shut I got a burrito and sat in the amphitheater-like area in the back of the 24th St. BART plaza listening to cheerful music and watching people. I nearly got a chair massage but instead I was looking at all the people with kind of janky old wheelchairs and who were having trouble carrying their stuff while on crutches. I took some notes on what I thought people might need for repair or modifications but didn’t go around talking with people, I want to think about it first and try some things out.

While on crutches myself I arrived as many people do at the idea that you can have a drink bottle with clip attached to your pants or belt or backpack loops. Mine would clank around but I got used to it. It is too hard otherwise to carry a drink. I also wore my keys and bus pass around my neck or on a Key-Bak type of device (which always makes me think of my friend Sabina since her grandfather invented it).

I was also thinking of talking with Corbett the other day about putting d-rings and webbing on available bits of wheelchair, and knob things to keep my backpack from slipping off my seat back, and how I was talking with Claire about Design Patterns and how there are mobility/accessibility patterns and antipatterns. Most crutches and many chairs lack places to attach or hook other things. You can go into a bike store and find things designed to clamp around bikes. Some of these work with wheelchairs and some don’t. Anyway, attachment points, or attachability, should be a design pattern for mobility equipment.

When you enter the Cripsterhood you should be issued a crapton of sticky backed velcro, cable ties, duct tape, hose clamps, pvc pipe lengths, and bungee cords along with your Durable Medical Equipment!

My foam padding with velcro strap and buckle hack is still KIND OF working on my TravelScoot front pole. Looks gross but it protects my knees from being bruised on the adjustable clamp. I also have a wire frame water bottle holder I got from a bike shop clamped on with velcro straps. The image in my mind here was that I want several rings or hooks that stick out from the scooter frame, so that I can attach stuff to them. I am not sure what. A beer opener would be a good start.

At the hardware store I came up with the idea of getting some cheap pipe straps, bending them around the scooter frame tubes, and fastening them with eyebolts or s-hooks. I tried it out and it worked pretty well. A 2-hole pipe strap is curved in a half circle and meant to be fastened to a flat surface. Instead I fastened it to itself. The size I got cost 50 cents and the eyebolt a dollar fifty. That is probably cheaper and less messy than velcro in the long run. Now I can hang something from a keyring or keyback or carabiner from my scooter steering column. I may do the same at many points around the frame to see how that works out. The problem is that it sticks out and the end of the bolt is a bit too long. A shorter bolt or a plastic cover to screw onto the end would improve the design.

I also wonder if the bolts might get in the way when people are folding or carrying the scooter. The nice thing is I have not had to drill into the scooter frame and taking off the eyebolts is super easy if I don’t like them.

While I was hypnotized by mobility gear at the BART plaza and wandering around the hardware store aisles I also realized I could fix my loose footrests. The foot rests on my TravelScoot fold upwards for compactness, like folding bike pedals. I often want to fold them upwards on the bus so that the sticking out bits won’t trip anyone. They are floppy and tightening them didn’t help. So, I found some neoprene washers intending to put them inside the footrest joint.

This didn’t quite work as planned since even after I got the bolt out, the pedal itself would not come out. I think if I had several more, and stronger, hands, I could have bent the metal a little and popped out the footrest. Since I don’t have either I just put the neoprene on the outside of the joint on both sides of the bolt. Hey! It now holds the pedal nicely folded upward. But when I look at it, clearly it isn’t going to last. I think one or two metal locking washers would be a better fix if I have to stick to the outside of the joint.

footrests flipped up

I got a lovely new tiny vise grip which is much better than trying to do this with an adjustable wrench or needlenose pliers like every other time I have messed with this beast. Yay vise grip! It’s so cute. The few tools that escaped are in the Mozilla Taiwan bag that I got at our last work conference which had chopsticks in it. Mini hex key with just 2 sizes (one perfect for scooter), 2 screwdrivers, pliers, scissors etc. And now my new best friend the tiny clamping thing.

tiny vise grip

The best way for me to tighten this (keeping in mind my hands hurt and are not strong) was to carefully stick the vise grip on the bolt, set it, then put a screwdriver through the eyebolt and turn it like a sort of handle or lever.

Meanwhile today Danny messed with our servers and Ada and Milo designed a card based combat system for her birthday party’s LARP’s climactic battle. Zach came over to get his packages and we discussed tools and comic books and I cooked him an omelet. His sound engineer guy is now hanging out at Noisebridge and Zach made him a glowing programmable LED sign with his DJ name on it (I only saw photos.) It was a nice day…

If you have tools to recommend to me, please have at it in the comments!

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Bad Inventions: The laptop girdle and the standing desk bra!

I have two new Bad Inventions for my collection of ideas that I will never implement and everyone is free to steal!

First, let me introduce the Laptop Girdle (or laptop belt)!

I often am working on my computer while lying on my back with knees and feet up on pillows to relieve strain in my low back and keep my painful ankles elevated. I’m sure many other people use their laptops in bed or on a couch lying down. One problem with this is the laptop needs to be specially propped up so it doesn’t slide upwards on your torso. Another problem is that your stomach or your belt can accidentally mess with the laptop track pad so that you suddenly click with your belly. I don’t even have that much belly and it happens all the time since my MacBook Air has very little space between the bottom edge of the laptop and the trackpad. Same with my belt. So, the Laptop Girdle will be a belt with a special groove meant to hold a laptop in place, immune from belly or belt-buckle clicks!

Also good for playing games on your ipad in bed!

The laptop belt is also useful for people who are sitting up with laptop ON THEIR ACTUAL LAP.

I think that boob clicks are also possible in this scenario so the laptop girdle must protect against boob clicks for those of us who are generously endowed.

Which thought leads us to . . . the Standing Desk Bra! Standing desks are amazingly popular with hipster programmers who aren’t me! There is one in my hotel room right now! Now, I am also not a person who needs a marvelously sturdy variety of bra which has the structural engineering of a suspension bridge. But for those of us who do wear amazingly constructed bras imagine if its support framework also had something that popped or folded out or attached on the underneath of the front of the bra, that would be a convenient shelf for your laptop, reading a book, or use as a handy drafting table! YES. The world needs Standing Desk Bras!

Please send me your drawings of these inventions as soon as possible so that we can make it happen. OR just make something like this and you are welcome to your ONE MILLION DOLLARS.

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Bad inventions: The purring electric blanket

This terrible invention fits well into my usual purview, cat-related ridiculousness — like dead mouse cat treats, sugar cereal themed cat litter, and of course the ever-popular Catula.

Instead of horrible genetically engineered “bed dogs” that are like animal exploitationy meat-based waterbeds (Thanks but no thanks, Larry Niven), we should invent purring blankets. Take a regular electric blanket. Cover it in fur. Add strips of gently vibrating or thrumming devices, and sensors. When the blanket senses your proximity, it heats up. If you stroke it, it purrs.

Here is the perfect opportunity to use fremitus.com, if you happen to own that pointless domain name. (WHICH… right now… no one does. No one loves fasciated tiger herons, or what?)

This will make me ONE MILLION DOLLARS someday along with all the other millions of dollars my other bad inventions will magically bring.

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Robot angst

Hanging out today talking about Google’s acquisition of Boston Dynamics me and Adina and Danny were thinking of what they might be used for that isn’t scary-creepy military combat or warzone bots. Here’s a few!

Disaster relief and emergency rescue. Locating people in rubble or bringing supplies into devastated areas. This is probably one of the purposes of these bots but I haven’t tried to find out.

Mapping stuff offroad. (Useful for geological surveys as well as for disaster recovery and outright spying).

“Fix My Street” style monitoring of urban environments, like reporting potholes or broken streetlights. Problem with this: Scary robots running around wearing out the roads and sidewalks.

Soil or water sampling along a shoreline to monitor pollution. I’m not sure if this makes much sense as it might be more reliable and cheaper to have sensors collecting data at fixed locations.

Junkyard bots that roam around in garbage dumps finding things that are recyclable or otherwise useful (or toxic). I thought of this watching how they can climb around on rubble.

Warehouse fulfillment and packing things for shipment. This seems quite possible!

Robot unicorns to replace taxis, Uber, and Lyft. There would obviously be a phone app to summon your robot unicorn to give you a ride anywhere around town. Google employees could summon a giant caterpillar or chinese dragon style segmented robot you could ride on, or one you could go inside like Catbus, that would whomp down the robot lane of Highway 101, in place of those white google buses.

Delivery robots. Residential buildings would have locked slots built in and businesses could have little locked cubbies for delivery bots to pick up people’s stuff. It would become trivial for a robot to just deliver you coffee from the cafe down the street. Of course this all leads to a world where robots need to find free wifi and electrical outlets for charging, which would further lead to us realizing there are little robot hangouts all over the city, the way people congregate around the deep sea vent nutrient rich environments of power outlets and hotspots in airports.

Feral robots which can feed off power on people’s solar roof thingies or from powerlines and survive in the wilds like rats and pigeons. The jumping sand flea bots would emerge at night to tap into lamp posts for power and then scuttle and leap back up to roofs like rats on the prowl.

Robots that go to holiday parties when you are too sick to go and project a Princess Leia sort of hologram of you saying hello and sending your regrets. Then they would scarily whip out a plate of cookies. Introverts might just have their presence robot host the party and you might end up with a whole den full of robot partygoers. Uh oh!

The angst from the title of this post is from (re)watching the videos of Boston Dynamics robots and narrating the robot’s probable sad-Dalek voices. BAD MASTER NOT KICK BIG DOG – BAD KICK MASTER NOT LAUGH ROBOT STUCK GOOD ROBOT…. I am too lazy to make the twitter account to do this, so please take it and run.

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Bad Inventions: Dumpling Compass!

This is hardly a bad invention. It is sheer genius, because dumplings are fucking delicious. And because I don’t have time to create it, I give it to you. The Dumpling Compass!

Dumpling Compass is a phone app that points you towards the nearest dumpling source.

Consider the miracle of the dumpling. The basic idea is some sort of grain delicately prepared and cooked, often surrounding a tasty filling. There are so many nuances to this amazing food. Behold the Wikipedia entry for the Dumpling, and swoon in awe!

Dumplings!

Using Dumpling Compass, you can filter by the doughy substrate (corn, rice, wheat), the method of cooking (boiled, steamed, fried, served in soup), the type of filling, and the national or ethnic background of the dumpling you most desire to find at any particular moment. Your compass will point you to it.

Someone go ahead and build this. You will make ONE MILLION DOLLARS.

Think how useful. Not like the Sockerchief or the Catula.

p.s. Tamales count!

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5 Minutes of Fame tonight!

Tonight at Noisebridge, our lightning talk event, 5 Minutes of Fame! I’ll be speaking at 5MoF about Bad Inventions, going back over at least 20 years of my own horrible inventions, some of which came to fruition and some which have not (YET).

As if you needed ANY reminder, Five Minutes of Fame is Noisebridge’s ADD
show-and-tell, squashing octets of human awesomeness into an hour like
booleans in a packed byte.

This week’s seasonal supercompression will include, among others, barring ill fortune, but by no means limited to the following:

* The Internet’S IO9.COM’S ANNALEE NEWITZ on how to apocalypse-proof your city
* Roving cartographer and open wireless fiend SCHUYLER ERLE on galactic empire
* The Center for Applied Rationality’s JULIA GALEF
* The Amazing Inventions of LIZ HENRY
* The Battle for OMNIPOTENCE. Who will win? WOOL, MUSHROOMS, or HEMP?

Join us as we untar the future! Pkunzip the past! Huffman decode your mind!

Thurs, Dec 20, 8PM, Noisebridge, 2169 Mission St, SF, CA, Earth Prime

You can submit talks through the wiki page for future events or MAYBE even for tonight’s talks.

Five Minutes of Antichrist

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Bad inventions: Dead mouse cat treats

I have two more bad inventions to add to the world, both cat-related!

Think how awesome it would be if we had cat treats that had the varied textures of dead mice! Pampered indoor cats could have the fun of chewing on the leathery outer skin made of meat jerky, crunching the fake bones, savoring the squooshy fake guts, and dragging the horrible fake mouse around by its meat jerky tail to leave it on your pillow as a gift. Dead mouse cat treats would be totally amazing and also the worst invention ever.

Except for … 80s sugar cereal cat litter! I thought of this yesterday while cleaning the litter box. We accidentally have an extra-rancid smelling brand of cat litter right now. Imagine a half assed attempt to make cat litter smell pleasant! It could smell just like Lucky Charms, or Frankenberries or whatever, and look like it too… the little blue odor-crystals would be the marshmallow bits.

Lucky Charms Cereal by laffy4k

The cat litter containing boxes could look excitingly like breakfast cereal boxes perhaps even with fun prizes inside for that ultra-hipster retro enjoyment of life… but the prizes would be FOR YOUR CAT.

As an extra bonus, you can combine both these inventions so that your box of Lucky Charms Cat Litter contains a Dead Mouse Treat prize.

Past cat-related inventions include Cat Eggs and the Catula. Other inventions from today: Feminist Bitcoins, the Social Justice Slot Machine, and the charitable causes first person shooter (“Give a hoot, shoot & loot!).

You’re welcome.

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Bad inventions: Dog skates and conductive paint toilet seats!

From my notebook pages of ridiculous inventions and bad ideas, for your amusement. As I fiddled with a pot of conductive paint and thought about murals on the wall with blinky LEDs, I had the horrible idea of painting a toilet seat with conductive paint in such a way so that when you sit on it, your bare butt completes a circuit and lights up something on the wall. That should be enshrined in the bad inventions hall of fame!

Dog skates would take the idea of dog skateboards and wheelchairs a bit further. Basically you would take an old fashioned metal rollerskate and modify it to strap around the body of a small dog. Then, add a spring-powered suspension system between the body and the wheels, so the dog can easily bounce up and down between a walking and a rolling position. The skate could also be locked with a screw device in a wheels-up or wheels-down position to make the dog walk, or to pull it along on a leash like a little (live) pull toy. I don’t have a dog and don’t even like dogs, but thought of this while staring at other people dragging their reluctant chihuahas around San Francisco, and it made me laugh because it’s such a bad idea.

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Gadget love

I found the best cable ever. It has ends for an iPad, miniUSB, and microUSB. Instead of having 3 heads on different necks like a hydra, the three ends plug into each other on jointed hinges. When you bend it, it looks like a cute little scorpion or like horrible alien mouthparts!

I love this cable!!!

The bits where it plugs into itself are very sturdy. The cable itself is thick and very short.

The best cable ever!

Here it is in action plugged into my phone! It is a “Magic 3-in-one” cable made by Innergie and handles data as well as recharging. As long as I manage not to lose this beast, I’m going to do away with carrying 2 or 3 different cables in my backpack (and never having the right one). If it ever falls apart at the hinges, I’ll still have the useful converter plugs.

<3 <3 cable love

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