New technology always seems to border on the edge of being weird or creepy. Back in the 1970s and 80s it was weird to be into games, locking yourself away for hours at a time in a darkened room staring at a glowing screen. Then the children (and adults) of that time grew up and suddenly spending your leisure time doing something other than watching TV or reading a book became an acceptable activity. This trend has been seen occurring more recently with the advent of social networks and smartphones with people now divulging information onto public forums at a rate that would’ve made the 1990s versions of them blush. What I’ve come to notice is that the time period between something being weird or creepy to becoming acceptable is becoming smaller, and the rate at which its shrinking is accelerating.
The smartphone which you now carry with you everywhere is a constant source of things that were once considered on the borderline of acceptable but are now part of your life. Features like Google Now and Siri have their digital fingers through all your data, combing it for various bits of useful information that it can whip up into its slick interface. When these first came out everyone was apprehensive about them, I mean the fact that Google could pick up on travel itineraries and then display your flight times was downright spooky for some, but here we are a year or so later and features like that aren’t so weird anymore, hell they’re even expected.
The factor that appears to melt down barriers for us consumers is convenience. If a feature or product borders on the edge of being creepy but provides us with a level of convenience we couldn’t have otherwise we seem to have a very easy time accommodating it. Take for instance Disney’s new MyMagic Band which you program with your itinerary, preferences and food choices before you arrive at one of their amusement parks. Sure it might be a little weird to walk into a restaurant without having to order or pay, or walking up to rides and bypassing the queue, but you probably won’t be thinking about how weird that is when you’re in the thick of it. Indeed things like MyMagic break down barriers that would otherwise impact on the experience and thus, they work themselves easily into what we deem as acceptable.
The same can be said for self driving cars. Whilst techno junkies like myself can’t wait for the day when taking the wheel to go somewhere is optional the wider public is far more weary of what the implications of self-driving cars will be. This is why many companies have decided not to release a fully fledged vehicle first, instead opting to slowly incorporate pieces of the technology into their cars to see what customers react positively first. You’ll know these features as things like automatic emergency braking, lane assist and smart cruise control. All of these features are things you’d find in a fully fledged self driving car but instead of being some kind of voodoo magic they’re essentially just augments to things you’re already used to. In fact some of these systems are good enough that cars can self drive themselves in certain situations, although it’s probably not advised to do what this guy does.
Measuring the time difference between cultural shifts is tricky, they can really only be done in retrospect, but I feel the general idea that the time from weird to accepted has been accelerating. Primarily this is reflection in the acceleration of the pace of innovation where technological leaps that took decades now take place in mere years. Thus we’re far more accepting of change happening at such a rapid pace and it doesn’t take long for one feature, which was once considered borderline, to quickly seem passe. This is also a byproduct of how the majority of information is consumed now, with novelty and immediacy held above most other attributes. When this is all combined we become primed to accept changes at a greater rate which produces a positive feedback loop that drives technology and innovation faster.
What this means, for me at least, is that the information driven future that we’re currently hurtling towards might look scary on the surface however it will likely be far less worrisome when it finally arrives. There are still good conversations to be had around privacy and how corporations and governments handle our data, but past that the innovations that happen because of that are likely to be accepted much faster than anyone currently predicts. That is if they adhere to the core tenet of providing value and convenience for the end user as should a product neglect that it will fast find itself in the realm of obsolescence.
For as long as I can remember I’ve been fascinated with animatronics. I can remember being at an exhibit or amusement park of some sort that had giant animatronic dinosaurs littered around the landscape and I was simply fascinated with how they had been created. Of course as I got older the wonder started to subside slightly, replaced with a glorious bit of teenage angst, but my trip to Disneyland 2 years ago rekindled that interest thanks to a visit to the Enchanted Tiki Room, an animatronics installation that’s over 4 decades old.
Disney has a pretty big interest in robotics as symbolized by their liberal use around their amusement park. What I didn’t know was that they had their own research and development division that’s responsible for the majority of the robots on the park, most of which were custom designed and built by them. Some of the things they’ve created are really impressive like this robot that’s able to play catch (and juggle!) with human participants:
The way they do it is very interesting and wasn’t what I was expecting. They use a Kinect like sensor, an ASUS Xtion PRO Live, as a motion tracker that can sense the ball’s position in real time. From that they use a couple well known mathematical principles to derive the trajectory and move the hand into position in order to catch it. Whilst it’s really only capable of catching balls thrown in a parabolic arc (this is an assumption based on the way they’ve got it operating, but I could be wrong) it’s still pretty darn good at it. Even better is when they speed it up which makes it able to juggle with a human player. It’d be pretty fun to get 2 of them together just to see how long they’d go before one of them dropped a ball.
Disneyland already had some pretty intriguing displays of robotics and this looks like it’ll be a pretty cool addition to their already impressive collection.
I am, like many of my ilk, a long time fan of Star Wars. I have many fond memories of watching it with my family as a kid, not completely understanding all the themes but just revelling in the story. When I heard that George Lucas was going to be making another three I was incredibly excited as I just couldn’t get enough of the Star Wars universe. It’s at this point that my course deviates somewhat from the norm as whilst I don’t believe the prequels were better than the originals I failed to see them being as bad as everyone made them out to be. There were some pretty glaring flaws to be sure but I never really found myself being bored by them which is my yardstick for differentiating good movies from bad.
However I do share the concerns of many with the fact that George Lucas just can’t seem to leave well enough alone as with every new release of Star Wars he seems to make tweaks to them that change the story fundamentally. I probably don’t have to tell you that Han shot first (and if you’re going to disagree with me than we’ll have some words, harsh words) but that’s only the most well known of Lucas’ transgressions against his most devoted community. A quick Google search will bring you this incredibly detailed breakdown of all the changes in the re-released versions, some small some that change the characters and plot in fundamental ways. Needless to say us long time fans have a love/hate relationship with him and this is probably why recent news has caused such a stir.
Yesterday Disney announced that they have signed an agreement to acquire all of LucasFilm, including the intellectual property rights to the Star Wars franchise, for a cool $4.05 billion. The collective nerd sphere screamed out in panic, fearing that this was just the latest front in a long running assault against their most beloved movie franchise. If anyone has a reputation for plundering something for all its worth (more so than George Lucas) it’s Disney and many of them fear that the Star Wars universe will be turned into another Disney Princess, with movie after movie being churned out in order to maximise their multi-billion dollar investment in the company.
Now whilst I can’t allay all your fears in that department (it’s a real possibility) there’s one thing here that I feel a lot of people are missing. Of all the movies in the franchise the most critically acclaimed are the ones that weren’t directed by George Lucas (Episodes 5 and 6, if you’re wondering). The rest were all directed by the man himself and many put the blame squarely on his direction for the reaction that the prequels received. With the transfer of all the rights to Disney it’s very likely that he won’t be heavily involved in the process of creating Star Wars 7, much less end up the one directing it. Of course there’s no guarantee the director they put in charge of it will be any better but the track record is pretty clear in showing that a non George Lucas directed film usually ends up being more well received.
Disney, for what its worth, can make a pretty darn good movie and have shown they can run a franchise pretty damn well. You might disagree on principle but it’s hard to ignore the fact that they’ve been behind quite a few big name movies of recent times like The Avengers and other long running franchises like Pirates of the Caribbean and Toy Story. “We can’t trust them with the Star Wars franchise though!” I hear you saying but who then, apart from Disney, would fit the bill for you? Because realistically you’d find similar fault with any other company that had the means with which to acquire LucasFilm in its entirety and honestly I think Disney makes a great fit for them. It’s no guarantee that we’ll see a return to the glory days of the original trilogy but you’ve got to admit that the chances are better now than they were before.
Maybe I’m just being optimistic here but as someone who’s managed to enjoy the Star Wars universe in many different ways (seriously, The Old Republic was an amazing game) I can’t help but feel that a new head at the helm might be the kick in the pants required to get it going again. Sure Disney will milk this for all its worth but that’s no different to what has been happening for the past 3 decades anyway. At the very least I’d withhold judgement until we start to see some of the previews of what a Disneyed Star Wars looks like before we start jumping to conclusions, especially ones that fail to take into account the fact that the fans’ biggest complaint may have just been taken care of.
The last day of any holiday is always filled with a wide gamut of emotions. We woke up naturally a good 3 hours before we needed to check out and spent that time lazily packing our bags for the day ahead. Our flight wasn’t until 10pm that night so we would have a good 10 hours before the time we had to leave the hotel and the time we had to catch the plane back home. Whilst we still had tickets to the San Diego Zoo I wasn’t too keen to drive the 2 hours there to see it, nor was I too confident that the drive back would be less than 2 hours. Instead we decided to spend the day shopping in downtown Los Angeles for gifts and generally lazing about before the 14 hour flight home.
After checking out and grabbing our car from the valet we headed towards a mall I had managed to find through Yelp. It was a traditional American outlet mall with everything being outdoors and the only indoor area being the food court on one of the upper levels. We spent many hours perusing through the various shops, picking up gifts for our family members that we hadn’t yet accounted for. Time was passing slowly and after what seemed like forever we collapsed in Barnes and Noble for some coffee and free wifi. It was only 4pm around that time meaning that going to San Diego was out of the question so we decided to hit up a movie to pass the last few hours before we’d charge over to LAX.
Arriving at one of the local theatres we discovered that the movie we had decided to see, Skyline which had been endlessly hyped during our entire trip, wasn’t available at this cinema. Undeterred we decided that we’d check the others to see if they were showing it. Strangely none of the theatres near us were showing it meaning we’d have to choose something else. Not really enticed by any of the options we went for Due Date since it was a comedy, figuring some light hearted fun would be the ticket. We bought our tickets but the show wasn’t on for another 45 mins, so we went into the attached mall.
Just as we entered the mall we spotted a puppy store (yes just puppies) and like any young couple we decided to go and ogle those cute little things. Really it wasn’t unlike any other pet store apart from the fact they had 3 “play rooms” set up at the back where you could pick a puppy and then take it there to play with it. I saw 2 families in separate rooms falling for this ploy, knowing full well that they’d be hard pressed to leave without their children’s new found playmate. Afterwards we spotted a Disney store and went in to grab a couple things that Rebecca wanted to get but hadn’t had the chance to last time we were there. We made our way back to the cinema which had the smallest rooms I’ve ever been in. It was really nice though as all the seats were comfy leather couches and the front most rows were giant futons you could lie back on.
After the movie was done we started the drive back to the rental car place to return our ride of the past week. I always remember these kinds of trips distinctly as that’s usually when it starts to sink in that the holiday is really coming to a close and all the memories start to flood in. I remembered so many things: the blazing Florida sun on my skin, the roar of the Corvette, the bitter cold kiss of Montreal, the sleepless city of New York and the child like wonder I rediscovered in Los Angeles’ theme parks. All of this was running through my head as we dropped off the car and took the shuttle to LAX where we checked in for our flight home.
The flight home went by much quicker than the flight there with the working entertainment system making sure many of those hours passed with ease. As we landed in Australia I felt those mixed feelings that any traveller has when they return home. Relief at the familiarity yet a sense of mourning that the trip is over, not wanting to let go of it. The feelings continued all the way back home and stayed with me until I fell asleep that night.
And now here I sit 3 days later recalling those experiences and the emotions come flooding back as if I was just boarding the plane back in Los Angeles. They will not soon be forgotten as the month Rebecca and I spent in the Unite States of America was more than just a holiday to us, it was our first true escape from our everyday lives that either of us have had. Sure we’ve both travelled before but never independently for this amount of time and because of that our perspective has changed radically. Time will tell if these feelings stay with us, but I feel this is tantamount to what happened to me almost 12 months ago which resulted in The Plan. One thing is for certain though, my heart now yearns for more experiences like these and my determination to make them happen has never been stronger.