jcchan's Blog Posts

Rinse your mouth, it's Greenwash!

August 21 2008 / by jcchan
Category: Environment   Year: 2008   Rating: 3

Going green is a noble cause. Both corporations and consumers are picking up on the trend due to market pressure. There’s no question about it, buyers like me feel warm and fuzzy when they purchase a product that is truly both sustainable and Eco-friendly.

But although this movement has grand intentions, it is not without its demons. After all, how can you tell if a product is really Eco-friendly or if the manufacturer just wants to make a quick buck? Enter Greenwashing, the practice of tricking consumers into believing a product to be green.

Examples of this practice include slapping a nice palm tree on a bottle of corrosive chemicals or being ambiguous about their environmental claims. Increasingly, greenwashing is a growing trend that any informed consumer must watch out for.

In the GE Ecomagination commercial below, the company portrays a mining operation with sexy and slender miners having fun with the pick-axes and drilling machines. The message is that energy from coal is getting more beautiful because of GE’s emissions reducing technology. It is an abundant resource that’s for sure, with an estimated supply of 250 years.

But many of us know that coal is the dirtiest burning fossil fuel, releasing hefty amounts of sulfur-oxides that produces acid rain and greenhouse emissions. Coal extraction is also a brutal process that severely scars the environment from strip mining and unthinkable amounts of toxic sludge (read: Thousands of tons). So what does a company like GE have in their bag of tricks that would make coal a viable candidate for all our future power needs?

Continue Reading

10 Ways to Interact With Computers in the Near Future

August 06 2008 / by jcchan
Category: Entertainment   Year: 2009   Rating: 5 Hot

Men have a infamous tendency to let their phallic tendencies dictate what they create. It is perhaps why some of the most famous builds like the Great Pyramids, Taj Majal and the Washington monument were made.

So, it didn’t surprise me when I recently read about an effort to create the world’s first male organ controlled computer.

So now that men have brought the inevitable to the realm of technology, I wonder how else humans of the future might interact with their computers?

With the recent (or not so recent) popularity of Nintendo Wii and its gyroscopic features, the rest of the human-computer interface market seems to have entered an innovative period. It looks rather likely that we’ll soon be playing games through VR googles, gesturing in the air to perform fluid dynamics calculations and maybe even writing Dear-John letters by thought alone.

Best of all, we won’t have wait decades for many of these advances as some amazing new products are already in prototype and will be market-ready in the very near-term. Here are some of the particularly interesting interface candidates:

1. In 2004, four people, two of them partly paralyzed wheelchair users successfully moved a computer cursor with a sensor cap that reads your brain with electrodes. In late February, technology pioneer Emotiv Systems announced the EPOC neuroheadset, a light weight, inexpensive ($300 USD), wireless headset that detects conscious thoughts, expressions, and emotions. Emotiv’s aim is the video games market and could open up a whole new generation of emotional immersive-ness in games.”

2. A modern take on a classic: The Livescribe pulse Smartpen is a pen that doubles as a stereo voice recorder, a music player, and most unique of all, a tiny infrared camera that picks up commands from a specially designed notebook. The ‘Dot’ notebook has record, pause, stop, playback, and navigation ‘buttons’ that you can tap on the bottom of the page to control the pen.

3. How about turning ANY surface, wall, table, or floor into a primary input device that can read handwriting, act as a musical instrument, a touchpad, or even a keyboard if you’re so inclined. The technology is called Tangible Acoustic Interfaces for Computer-Human Interaction (TAI-CHI) and the power is in sound waves.

Continue Reading

Next-Gen Video Games Offer New Value to All

July 31 2008 / by jcchan
Category: Metaverse   Year: 2009   Rating: 4

Coming soon to your living room: a wild safari in the scorching African savanna starring you, armed with nothing but your camera. Afrika is the next step in a generation of video games that seek to become more than just entertainment and can actually make you smarter.

Afrika, the latest game by Rhino Studios, is set to be released in Japan on the PS3 in late August. You play it from the perspective of a nature photographer and naturalist armed with a Nikon stalking realistic wildlife in painstakingly recreated savannas. The photos you snap are saved like a lexicon, or Africa-pedia, where you can read up all about the real facts of the animal. The PS3’s multi-cored cell processor is being utilized to is fullest potential to recreate the complex AI and behavior of the animals in mirror world fashion, and it’s is just one of many in the increasing trend of video games that are as educational as they are made to be entertaining.

Because the game is not about rifles or grenades, it is perfect for younger children who can learn about Africa’s wildlife in a fully immersive 3D world rather than a bread-and-butter textbook. And what a field trip it is without all the expenses and dangers of being there.

But using video games to teach isn’t a new idea. An all-girls junior high school in Japan have already been using Nintendo DS’s to teach English. The verdict? The students feel right at home with the new devices. Katie Salen, a game designer and director of the graduate Design and Technology program at Parsons School of Design, is leading the way in using video games as a foundation for education for an accelerating world. Her goal is to open a school based on gaming literacy.

Continue Reading

Your Grandma Will Be Playing Spore This Fall

July 16 2008 / by jcchan
Category: Entertainment   Year: 2008   Rating: 11 Hot

Will Wright wants you to play god. To open the floodgates of your imagination and fill an entire living universe with unique species.

His massive plan seems to be working as people are already ravenous for Spore. In just 18 days nearly 1.6 million species of creatures were uploaded in to Sporepedia, Spore’s worldwide database of user-created lifeforms.

The nascent Spore universe is already up to 1,876,714 creatures (and counting) in its genetic database, surpassing the 1.75 million identified species on Earth. By itself this is a spectacular feat but even more so when you realize that the full game hasn’t even touched store shelves yet.

Wright, Spore’s creator, and also of The Sims, Sim City, and Sim Everything (an actual former name of Spore), hopes the advance release of the Spore Creature Creator will tease us into the full serving of Spore available in September.

With the Spore hype in full effect I thought to give it a test run myself to see if such games are truly the future of user generated content. So today I will take you on a brief tour through the Spore Creature Creator.

The Creature Creator is available both as a free-trial version with a quarter of the full content and a $10 boxed version with all of the creature body parts. The version I am going to take you through is the trial version, readily available at the Spore site.

Upon installation, the game asks you to register for an online account to Spore. You can play offline too but you won’t be able to store your creatures in the massive Sporepedia database. I jumped right into “Create a Creature” mode and got started with…

A Pear. Or a Gourd. I can’t tell, but it squirms around. I assume it’s dying for its creator to give it some life. You are given 2,000 genetic points to spend, and limbs, eyeballs, and tentacles all vary in cost. The system is simple, drag body parts from the menu to attach and pull to detach. (cont.)

Continue Reading

The Future of Space Travel is Yucky

July 14 2008 / by jcchan
Category: Space   Year: Beyond   Rating: 7 Hot

Ah, space tourism. You ditched Paris or Tokyo to the dismay of your spouse and now sit some 600 miles above Earth with an ice-cold Mojito in hand. “See, honey? This isn’t so bad.” As you take a sip the pilot speaks over the intercom about some turbulence. That’s fine you think, it can’t be bad as the bumpy airplane trips to Los Angeles back when you were a kid.

Just then, you see gold specks scream pass the window at 17,500 miles an hour, followed by the loud thud of a space helmet that leaves a considerable dent in your window outside. The entire space-plane trembles violently as red lights flood on. The pilot reassures that it was just space turbulence and to strap on seat belts. “This wasn’t mentioned in the catalogue” you thought, your spouse giving you a look that you know all too well.

This may not be the common vision of space tourism but the reality is that since the Soviet Union launched Sputnik back in 1958 there is an estimated one million pieces of junk floating in orbit. Of those, 9,000 objects are bigger than a tennis ball, large enough to cause catastrophic damage to moving space shuttles, satellites, and space stations. Most are pieces from old satellites and garbage left behind by previous missions. Adding to this mess are nuts, bolts, and screwdrivers that have errantly drifted into space from missions, and an expensive Hasselblad camera with exposed pictures still inside.

According to the European Space Agency, of the 5,500 tons of material in orbit, 93% is junk that includes parts of old spacecraft, depleted rocket boosters, garbage bags ,and even nuclear coolant. Each piece can and are dividing into more pieces. Only 7% of the material in orbit is operational spacecraft in use.

Besides posing an ethical problem of using our orbit as a landfill, the junk pose a big problem to current and future missions because of their ultra-high velocities in orbit. At 17,500 miles per hour, a millimeter speck of paint has the same amount of energy as a .22 caliber long rifle bullet, a pea sized piece has the lethal potential of a 400-lb safe traveling at 60 mph, and a tennis ball sized piece of metal is essentially 25 sticks of floating dynamite.

So what can we do about this junk? Is there a way to get it out of orbit? Perhaps zap it? Or give it a nudge? (cont.)

Continue Reading

Coming Soon, A Four Day Work Week!

July 09 2008 / by jcchan
Category: Energy   Year: General   Rating: 4

Imagine a Friday drive down to a golf course in a neighboring state, followed by a relaxing Saturday of hiking and fishing, then spending Sunday at home relaxing with the family. While an extra day off may not seem like much, who wouldn’t enjoy perpetual 3-day weekends?

Thanks to rising fuel prices, that’s exactly what a new State bill in Utah proposes for thousands of government employees. In an effort to curb air pollution and reduce state and commuter energy costs, legislators are seriously pushing for a 4-day, 10-hour work, Monday-to-Thursday work week in place of the traditional 5-day week.

If the bill is passed, public schools in Utah will transition to 149-day school years instead of 172, with class time extended by 65 minutes each day. But don’t worry about vital public services because the State police, prison guards, courts, public universities, and even state-run liquor stores will still hold regular hours on Fridays. Likewise, hazardous spill disposal and medicaid phone line services will not be affected by the changes.

The idea of a four day work week isn’t new. Ever since the gas crisis of the 1970’s the idea has been floating around to conserve fuel costs, but only recently have people begun to get excited about the possible switch-up now that gasoline prices are seriously pinching travel and commuter budgets.

For example, Suffolk County and New York are already considering the plan, so it looks as though this could be the start of a much broader trend. (cont.)

Continue Reading

Will Twitter and Facebook Kill Email?

July 07 2008 / by jcchan
Category: Technology   Year: General   Rating: 4

Email was introduced to the public in the mid 90’s, marking a big shift in communication efficiency and relegating snail mail to the handling of American Express ads, magazine subscriptions, and utility bills. Since then the corporate world has since embraced it, just as Hallmark cards have been replaced by e-birthday cards. But with times and the web changing so rapidly in the last decade email is now increasingly considered an ‘internet app classic’.

A recent article by Alex Iskold at ReadWriteWeb looks to challengers like Twitter and Facebook to dethrone email sooner than later. Iskold points out that over the last five years the shift away from email appears to have be in favor of simplicity. People who once used emails to keep up with family and friends now have moved on to IM. Similarly, bloggers use bridge apps like Twitter that combines the shortness of an IM, with the get-to-know-you personality of blogs. Even the face of email has transformed with gmail taking the lead in a jack-of-all-trades interface combining chat and a word processor. (I’m typing this post right into Google Docs.)

Looking at the trends of the past, I don’t think email will go in the way of the Dodo. I think of email’s relationship to its ‘successors’ as radio to television. TV didn’t kill radio, and the Internet definitely didn’t kill TV. They just did all of their respective jobs the best. Email is still the perferred way for corporate communication, and a good number of us still tune into our favorite radio stations on the freeway. Is email in danger then? Will savvy web users and bloggers one day ditch email in favor of Twitter and Gchat?

Only two things are certain. Apps will become more modular and specialized and there will be cross-platform competition. (cont.)

Continue Reading

The Empty Playgrounds of Tomorrow: Europe's Negative Growth

July 03 2008 / by jcchan
Category: Culture   Year: General   Rating: 5 Hot

By JC Chan

In the next eight seconds 34 babies will be born to the world. Of these five will be from India and four will be from China. In ten years China will be the dominant English speaking country in the world. With world population exploding and shifting so dramatically, it’s easy to envision a future with billions more humans inhabiting Earth than do today. But that may not be the case.

Consider the scenario presented in the sci-fi film Children of Men (2006), a bleak vision of Earth in 2027 where humans have mysteriously lost fertility and the ability to procreate. In one scene, a scruffy-faced man named Theo, played by Clive Owen, and a woman named Miriam walk across the dreary rust of an abandoned school playground. Sitting on the squeaky swing set is the African woman they are protecting, miraculously nursing in her hands the first newborn the Earth has seen in over a decade. Miriam recalls her days as a nurse delivering births. She notes that over time fewer births were recorded until the day they ceased altogether.

“As the sound of the playgrounds faded, the despair set in. Very odd, what happens in a world without children’s voices,” she grimly states.

The backdrop for the film is a future England that has adopted a survivalist policy as it attempts to police millions of incoming immigrants into concentration camps to preserve the little remaining natural resources they have left. When I first watched Children of Men, the idea of humanity wiped out by widespread infertility seemed a little far-fetched. Certainly there are many other, more viable ways for us to go: nuclear weapons, terrorism, a nanotechnology nightmare, a super-resistant bacteria strain, asteroids, global warming.

Growing up in the 90’s, schools and media have always drilled into my head the post-war baby boom, exponential growth, limited allocation of resources, and recycling, oh lots of talk about recycling. (Note: I am an avid recycler.) Still, though we can and should do something about issues like global warming and runaway population growth, scenarios like the reality of the 2027 in Children of Men remind us that there may well be other formidable challenges on the horizon that may not be so much in our control.

Case in point, a recent NYTimes Sunday Magazine article by Russell Shorto entitled “No Babies?” addresses the very real possibility of population decline. Shorto examines the sleepy Italian town of Laviano in Southern Italy, a spectacular sight with magnificent steep slopes and wild poppies adorning medieval fortress ruins of a fortress, in which a population of 3,000 has fallen to just 1,600 and still dropping.

This has caused such alarm that the Laviano’s mayor has created a new fund to give any woman that would rear a child in the village, a sum of 10,000 euros ($15,000). Though the plan has resulted in a slight uptick in residents, Laviano is still steadily losing population. (cont.)

Continue Reading