A 15 year old's amazing project to support caregivers of Alzheimer's patients →

October 06, 2014 |

Dave Mark, The Loop:

Kenneth’s grandfather suffers from Alzheimer’s and tended to wander out of their apartment at night, getting out in the streets of New York City, causing a number of accidents, not to mention a lot of worry.

Kenneth’s solution won him one of the 15 finalist slots at the 2014 Google Science Fair. Watch the video. Incredible work.

What an amazingly clever idea. This one hit very close to home, for very personal reasons. Last year I lost my uncle to Alzheimer’s, and his last few months at home were an incredible ordeal for my dad, who was his primary caregiver. I can definitely vouch for the need for new and better ways to support caregivers and family members through such a difficult time.

I have also been professionally close to this problem for a long time, which has only strengthened my appreciation for how important this is. For the past 6 years I used to work at a biomedical engineering research center. One of the center’s main research areas is precisely on the topic of Ambient Assisted Living, which focuses on active aging, and the development of technology to support caregivers of the elderly which, as in the case of my dad, are often close relatives of the person in need.

Caring for an elderly family member is a truly exhausting activity that keeps caregivers busy 24/7 and invades all areas of their personal lives. Many families suffer a great deal of stress due to this problem and, for the most part, receive very little help, if any, from their governments in this critical task.

With the global population aging at an unprecedented rate, things are only going to get worse before they get better. This is not only an emotional and personal problem. As more diseases become chronic thanks to the advancements in modern medicine, the burden to a country’s healthcare system becomes untenable. We desperately need to raise awareness on this topic. We need many more Kenneths out there, dreaming up a better future for our loved ones — and for ourselves, in 40 years time.

Just because a problem seems to be far away in the future, it doesn’t mean it’s not coming.

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How the Apple Watch is a huge step forward for haptic technology | Macworld →

October 03, 2014 |

Interesting article by Brian S. Hall. A bit on the touchy-feely side (pun intended), but the possibilities are exciting:

Haptic technology —haptics— uses force upon the skin to deliver real-time tactile feedback. These physical sensations are created by tiny motors called actuators. Done right, haptics can mimic the feeling of a pin prick by a wearable that tracks your blood sugar, simulate the plucking of virtual guitar strings on a tablet screen, or re-create the physical recoil of a phaser from your favorite game controller.

I don’t get why anybody would want to replicate the prick of a blood glucose monitor, but the rest are all great.

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One village, 150 street artists | Messy Nessy Chic →

October 03, 2014 |

Everywhere you turn in Er-Riadh, there’s art. It’s everywhere. The ancient village on the Tunisian island of Djerba, has spent the last several months of high summer being slowly transformed from a sleepy, traditional little corner of North Africa that has never heard of street art, into a world stage for one of the most vibrant and ambitious street art projects ever imagined.

Stunning images.

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Walking with open eyes | The Last Word on Nothing →

October 03, 2014 |

Helen Fields:

Science, it turns out, backs up my love for the walking commute. For a study published earlier this year in the journal Preventive Medicine, researchers in the United Kingdom analyzed data from a study of nearly 18,000 British commuters. They found that those who walked to work were, psychologically speaking, better off than those who drove. People who took public transportation had more psychological wellbeing than drivers, too, although not as much as walkers.

Great article. She only forgot to mention that according to the study, the same health benefits also apply to those who cycle to work.

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Actual work on vintage Macs is possible →

October 03, 2014 |

Riccardo Mori shares his thoughts on this Ars Technica piece by Andrew Cunningham:

I’m quite experienced when it comes to vintage Macs and optimising them to make the most of them. The Ars Technica piece by Cunningham left a bitter taste in my mouth, and as I voiced on Twitter and, I believe the author (perhaps due to inexperience and impatience with vintage hardware and software) hasn’t painted a completely fair picture of how these machines and systems can actually perform.

Really interesting overview of his impressive collection of vintage Macs, and how he still uses them.

Via Stephen Hackett.

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Faster horses

October 02, 2014

There’s a great quote that is often attributed to Henry Ford, the man who revolutionized the automobile industry with the introduction of the Model T in 1908. You’ve probably heard it before:

If I had asked my customers what they wanted they would have said a faster horse.

Whether Ford actually ever said them or not, those are wise words, and they apply to a great many things beyond cars. The gist of it is that consumers largely judge new products by comparing them to their existing competitors. That’s how we instinctively know if something is better. However, what happens when an entirely new product comes along? What happens when there are no real competitors?

When there’s no reference, there’s no objective way to quantify how good —or bad— a product is. As a last resort, people will still try to compare it to the closest thing they can think of, even if the comparison doesn’t really work. That can be a dangerous thing, but it can also be an opportunity.

The main lesson behind Ford’s words is that, if you aim to create a revolution, you must be willing to part with the existing preconceptions that are holding your competitors back. Only then will you be able to take a meaningful leap forward. That will surely attract some criticism in the beginning, but once the product manages to stand on its own, people will see it for what it really is.

The tech world is largely governed by that rule. It’s what we now call disruption. Apple, in particular, is famous for anticipating what people need before they even know it, disrupting entire markets. That’s arguably the main reason behind their massive success during the past decade.

In retrospect, Apple products are often seen as revolutionary, but only after they’ve gained a foothold in the market and more importantly, in our collective consciousness. Only then, people start seeing them for the revolutionary devices they always were. At the time of their announcement, though, they tend to face strong criticism from people that don’t really understand them. Apple products are usually not terribly concerned with conforming to the status quo and in fact, more often than not they’re actively trying to disrupt it. And that drives some people nuts.

It happened with the iPod:

No wireless. Less space than a nomad. Lame.

It happened with the iPhone.

That is the most expensive phone in the world and it doesn’t appeal to business customers because it doesn’t have a keyboard, which makes it not a very good email machine…

It also happened with the iPad.

It’s just a big iPod touch.

There’s another example that’s particularly telling. During the last episode of The Talk Show, John Gruber and Ben Thompson reminded me of the public criticism that the original iPhone faced when Apple announced it. Much of that criticism was focused on its non-removable battery, a first in the mobile phone industry at the time. Back then, many people were used to carrying a spare battery in case their phone happened to die mid-day. Once the iPhone arrived and people couldn’t swap batteries anymore, they became angry. The iPhone didn’t conform to what they already knew, and they didn’t like it.

But the iPhone was never a horse.

7 years later, swappable batteries are no longer a thing, and nobody remembers them anymore. Some people may think of it as nice-to-have, and some others prefer to carry an extra battery pack, but for the most part, battery-swappability is not a factor driving smartphone sales.

Was it ever really a big deal?

Of course not. Swappable batteries were never a feature, they were merely a way to deal with the technological shortcomings of the time. Apple knew that if they managed to get a full day’s worth of use out of the iPhone’s battery, there wouldn’t be a need for it to be removable anymore, and they trusted people to eventually understand and accept that. It was a gamble, but history has shown that they were right.

The same thing happened with MacBooks a few years ago, but by then, Apple’s solution had already proven to be the right one. Indeed, it seems a bit silly to complain about a non-removable battery when your laptop gets 12 hours of battery life.

And yet, no matter how many times Apple has been right in the past, people keep finding reasons to complain about their new products. The Apple Watch, of course, is no different:

Apple Watch is ugly and boring (and Steve Jobs would have agreed).

It’s not even a finished product, and some people are already slamming it. And it’s only going to get worse.

People don’t like what they don’t understand and so far, nobody understands the Apple Watch. I’m not even sure anybody can; we just don’t know enough about it at this point. In the absence of a valid reference, many are sure to dismiss it as either irrelevant or flawed, simply because it doesn’t conform to their own existing preconceptions. Because, like the iPhone, the Apple Watch is not a horse either.

That’s a very human response, deeply rooted in our nature. It’s actually uncontrollable, to a degree. We’ve been evolutionary conditioned to be wary of the unknown, because there was a time not so long ago, when our very survival depended on it. However, given that we’re not fighting smilodons for food anymore, perhaps we should at least try to keep an open mind about things. Especially shiny things that cost hundreds —or thousands— of dollars and have the potential to disrupt our entire lives and redefine the way we communicate with each other.

I’m not saying that you should like the Apple Watch. I’m certainly not saying you should buy one. I’m just saying, it can’t hurt to give it the benefit of the doubt. There’s so much to gain and so little to lose.

The Apple Watch is not a faster horse but who knows? It just may end up being your favorite thing.

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God, Darwin and my college Biology class | The New York Times →

October 02, 2014 |

David P. Barash:

I’m a biologist, in fact an evolutionary biologist, although no biologist, and no biology course, can help being “evolutionary.” My animal behavior class, with 200 undergraduates, is built on a scaffolding of evolutionary biology.

And that’s where The Talk comes in. It’s irresponsible to teach biology without evolution, and yet many students worry about reconciling their beliefs with evolutionary science. Just as many Americans don’t grasp the fact that evolution is not merely a “theory,” but the underpinning of all biological science, a substantial minority of my students are troubled to discover that their beliefs conflict with the course material.

It’s really difficult for me to accept that Evolution vs. Creation is still an actual debate today.

Via Kottke.

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Little things that improve the way Shawn Blanc works on a Mac →

October 02, 2014 |

Plenty of useful tips from Shawn here on how to use automation tasks as part of your workflow to improve daily productivity:

Computers are great at doing the boring, automated stuff we don’t like to do. So why not automate common tasks (like performing backups of your computer), pre-make decisions for your computer to carry out on your behalf (such as auto-filing certain email newsletters), and generally just find ways to make yourself more efficient?

Good stuff. He makes an interesting point towards the end:

It can be easy to get hyper nerdy about this stuff, and to spend forever and a day tinkering and fiddling and “optimizing”. I listed out the above things not to say that you should be utilizing them as well, but instead to give you an idea of perhaps one or two ways that you could work smarter.

He’s right on the money here, and it made me think of this wonderful xkcd comic from last year:

Is It Worth the Time?

That could very well serve as a rough guideline, to keep things in perspective before you start going crazy with the automation scripts.

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