Monthly Archives: June 2017

PM’ing my way to El Segundo

Do you ever play the game of “Feature or Bug?” with your own characteristics? Being tall, for instance, could be a feature until you’re crammed into a tight airline seat.

For me it often comes down to wildly ambitious, encompassing visions. They’re exciting, they’re inspiring… and then I lose folks. Time & again I’ve found myself talking with a colleague, getting them excited about some idea or other—but then I go blasting off in my one-man rocket ship, watching through a lonely porthole as their smile & energy fade, then disappear under a plume of my conversational exhaust. As my old boss Kevin observed the other day, “It’s not leadership if no one follows.”

I still want to take people to the moon, but lately, to borrow a phrase from Chris Rock’s character Cheap Pete, I’m first trying just to take ‘em to El Segundo. It’s a little like this…


Automatically share photos of specific people via Google Photos

Computer vision FTW!

Bad old world: Even though I’m standing next to my wife while she snaps pics of our kids, it’s only if Facebook buzzes my phone that I see what she took & shared. The rest remain a mystery.

Good new world: Every photo I take of the kids can be automatically shared with her, and vice versa. 

With shared libraries, sending and receiving photos with one person is effortless—you can automatically share your full photo library or customize just what you want to share. Suggested sharing uses machine learning to automatically identify photos and suggest recipients, making sharing as simple as a single tap. 

I’ve been waiting for this for years. Setup is super simple: pick your partner, select people to share (or whole library), send invite; goodness ensues. You can check out the details here, and you can use the feature now on iOS, Android, and Web. Enjoy!

“Persuasion & Control”: A dark, bracing podcast

“Like a meeting room that simply seeks to prolong the meeting”—so says writer Zeynep Tufekci of Facebook, YouTube, and other sites that seek to maximize their command of your attention. In this conversation with Sam Harris she explains, among other things…

  • how machine learning draws us towards the edges of discourse (because that’s simply what we’re most likely to click)
  • how political campaigns can (and now do) target specific people (e.g. black men in Philadelphia in 2016) in order to depress their votes
  • how marketers could detect a manic-depressive person’s manic upswing & comp him airline tickets to Vegas, knowing that he’s most vulnerable to blowing all his money
…and more. It’s fascinating, dark stuff that should give pause to all of us—especially those of us who merrily work to extract more & more insights into individuals, in order to better shape their behavior (for good, we swear…).

Sam Harris speaks with Zeynep Tufekci about “surveillance capitalism,” the Trump campaign’s use of Facebook, AI-enabled marketing, the health of the press, Wikileaks, ransomware attacks, and other topics.

Merry f’ing Christmas.


Netflix introduces “interactive storytelling”

As an ex-child old enough to remember Captain Power and “interactive TV” in the 80’s, I’m intrigued that Netflix is introducing branching, Choose Your Own Adventure-style storytelling:

So do kids really want this kind of more lean-forward experience? No one seems sure:

We’ve done extensive research and talked to lots of kids and parents, collecting qualitative data to better understand if this is something viewers will like. While we’ve gotten positive feedback (for example, parents like the fact their child has the ability to make decisions and take a seat in the director’s chair, if you will), we’re eager to learn how our members will engage with the experience. Which choices or storylines will be the most popular? Will the mean bears or the friendly bears be more popular? Are members more compelled to rewatch and uncover all of the different storylines?

They say that old age is a second childhood, so this dovetails nicely with my (otherwise super proper, Midwestern Catholic) dad now yelling profanity at Trump on MSNBC. 😝

On a similar note, the Choose Your Own Adventures books haven’t been updated in nearly 20 years (!), but they’re being reissued with maps of the hidden structures in each book:

Nick Montfort, a poet and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who studies interactive fiction, has a habit of asking people what they know about “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. “They often say, ‘You have two choices after every page,’” he says. “That’s not true. Sometimes you have one choice. Sometimes you have more than two. When you show the maps, you can see that these books don’t look exactly the same.”


[YouTube] [Via]

Photography: “Swirling rays, knot holes, termites and rot” inside wood

Take a hypnotic tour through the inside of wood (really!) courtesy of engineer/animator Brett Foxwell and musician/animator Conor Grebel. As Colossal notes, “Watching this full-screen in HD with sound makes all the difference.”

“Fascinated with the shapes and textures found in both newly-cut and long-dead pieces of wood, I envisioned a world composed entirely of these forms,” Foxwell told Colossal. “As I began to engage with the material, I conceived a method using a milling machine and an animation camera setup to scan through a wood sample photographically and capture its entire structure. Although a difficult and tedious technique to refine, it yielded gorgeous imagery at once abstract and very real. Between the twisting growth rings, swirling rays, knot holes, termites and rot, I found there is a lot going on inside of wood.”



[YouTube] [Via]

Google Toontastic 3D adds characters from Cars & Fruit Ninja

Your kids may commence losing their minds in 3, 2,… 🚗😄

Kids can now create their very own cartoons with Lightning McQueen and Mater as well as new characters Jackson Storm, Cruz Ramirez and Miss Fritter. Two playsets from the film are included—the Florida 500 raceway and the Thunder Hollow demolition derby. Kids can also get an inside look into how animated movies are made with a “behind the scenes” tour of Pixar Animation Studios in the app. “Cars 3” characters and playsets can be added to cartoons until September 30.

Grab the free storytelling app for iOS and Android.

I was really pleased to hear how popular it’s proven:

Since January kids have created 2.5 million cartoons with 24,000 hours of content. That’s nearly three years worth of swashbuckling adventures, intergalactic explorations, inquisitive science reports and inventive design pitches.



Arsenal promises to add AI to your DSLR

Check out this brainy strap-on:

Arsenal is the world’s first intelligent assistant for DSLR and mirrorless cameras. Ultralight hardware lets you wirelessly control your camera with an intuitive iOS or Android app. And advanced machine learning algorithms help you get the perfect shot every time.

Here, you enjoy that while I return to the world where 99% of people just DGAF about our notions of quality.


[Via John Stevenson]

Gatorade’s amazing ad uses water & strobes to print on air

You know what wasn’t 1/10th as elegant or impressive as this? Me sweating through box jumps today. So behold something prettier:

PetaPixel writes,

The water printer itself comprises over 20,000 parts, and took over 5,000 man hours to construct. The printer they built had 2,048 individual nozzles, which turned on and off within 2 milliseconds. The strobes were then set to freeze the droplets mid-air. James Medcraft, the project’s director of photography explains: “We’re using the flash to freeze the water droplets at a very precise moment in space, and we’re having to do that with millimeter and microsecond accuracy.”

Here’s a look behind the scenes:



“Nutella Unica”: Algorithmic hazelnut artwork FTW

Warhol painted dozens of identical Campbell’s soup cans. Now, thanks to algorithmically driven printing, every consumer object can be unique:

With the help of Ogilvy & Mather Italy, seven million Nutella jars were made, each donned in a one-of-a-kind label. The packaging design for the ‘Nutella Unica’ series was brought to life using an algorithm that combined colors and patterns to create millions of dissimilar arrangements. 

[YouTube] [Via]

Affinity Photo on iPad: Will anyone care?

Shivering in the former East Germany back in 2011, I tried—and painfully failed—to get Adobe to invest in a fresh, modern, from-the-ground-up imaging pipeline for Photoshop. It would run beautifully on mobile hardware & scale up to desktops. Instead our mobile play (Photoshop Touch) remained built on top of a mid-90’s platform for banner ads (Flash!), which was almost whimsically insane. Soon after I left the team.

Years later, I think (or at least hope) Adobe might be taking this plunge across their imaging tools. The more interesting question is, will anyone care?

On Monday Serif introduced Affinity Photo for iPad, offering desktop-level photo editing for $20.

Developed without compromise, Affinity Photo for iPad is the first full blown, truly professional photo editing tool to make its way onto the Apple tablet. Built from exactly the same back-end as our award-winning desktop version, and fully optimised to harness the full power of the iPad’s hardware and touch capabilities. Affinity Photo for iPad offers an incredibly fast, powerful and immersive experience whether you are at home, in the studio or on the move.

Here’s a 30-second tour:

I’m eager to try it, and I wish these folks well—but I’m skeptical about it finding a large audience. Working on Photoshop Touch, I struggled to discern an audience that wants “real” power/complexity on mobile devices. Building a desktop-style editor was like building a great home office… on the beach. That is, it’d be sticking a serious, productivity-oriented tool into a lean-back consumption context.

I saw that when people wanted to work, they’d simply put away the tablet and take out their “real” computer (which no one had confiscated, and which retained a larger screen, more memory, etc.). In powerful mobile apps like Snapseed & VSCO, the vast majority of use happens on phones, not tablets. Outside of sketching/painting apps (which cater to a skills set that few people really have), I’ve yet to see serious creative tools take root on tablets.

Anyway, we shall see!


Photography: Beautiful thunderstorm timelapses in 4k

Mesmerizing work from Chad Cowan:

Supercell thunderstorms are a manifestation of nature’s attempt to correct an extreme imbalance. The ever ongoing effort to reach equilibrium, or viscosity, is what drives all of our weather, and the force with which the atmosphere tries to correct this imbalance is proportional to the gradient. In other words, the more extreme the imbalance, the more extreme the storm.

[Vimeo] [Via]

Drinks & food worth knowing in San Jose

With the help of a few friends, I’ve gathered some links to places worth checking out during WWDC and beyond. Add comments with good stuff I’ve missed! [Update: Thanks to Brendan McKenna for making a Foursquare list version of this post.]


  • Haberdasher (subterranean speakeasy) [Update: They were closed when I went last night; call ahead if interested]
  • San Pedro Square (food, music, outdoor seating)
  • Mezcal (Oaxacan cooking, killer moles & mezcal)
  • Hapa’s Brewery (about 5 min by car from downtown; drinks, art, & cornholing)
  • Santana Row (yes, it’s effectively a goddamn mall, but there are ~20 restaurants, many of them really good; 15 min by car)


Haberdasher (speakeasy; reservations recommended if you want your own table; very small snacks, no meals)
43 W. San Salvador San José, CA 95113

5 Points – Craft Cocktail Bar (good drinks, small snacks)
169 w Santa Clara St

AFK Gamer Lounge – (sort of a sports bar but with video games on the TVs instead of sports)
163 W Santa Clara St

Paper Plane – (craft bar, decent food and dessert)
2 S. First St. San Jose, CA, 95113

Original Gravity – (craft beer, sausage, and duck-fat fries)
66 S 1st Street

ISO Beers (tons of beers on tap, nice outdoor patio)
75 E Santa Clara St

Cafe Stritch (live jazz, food and drinks)
374 S 1st st

Drinks (non-alcoholic)
Boba Bar (good boba, and pretty good lunch)
310 S 3rd St, San Jose, CA 95112

Social Policy (coffee shop with fancier pastries and breakfasts)
200 S 1st St, San Jose, CA 95113

San Pedro Square (lots of great fancy-pants little restaurants & options for drinks under two big roofs, with lots of outdoor seating & often live music)
87 N San Pedro

Poor House (New Orleans-inspired food like po’ boys, near the Shark Tank aka SAP Center)
91 S Autumn St

Mezcal (Oaxacan cooking, great moles & mezcal)

The Loft (two levels, solid food/chow)
90 S 2nd St

SOFA Market (like a mini San Pedro Square, the best ice cream bars in downtown)
387 S 1st street

The Farmers Union (Nice sit-down restaurant near San Pedro Square)
151 W Santa Clara St

La Victoria Taqueria (worthwhile arterial destruction with a splash of orange sauce)
131 W Santa Clara St, San Jose, CA 95113

Hom Korean Kitchen (good for lunch)
76 E Santa Clara St, San Jose, CA 95113

Original Joe’s (a downtown institution; Italian food)
301 S 1st St, San Jose, CA 95113


[Special thanks to Dev Davis & Phil Fernandez]


Google Photos now helps you weed out crud

Auto-hide (but don’t delete) pictures of receipts, whiteboards, etc.? Cool:

To help you quickly find and organize those photos you want to save but don’t necessarily want to often see among your memorable moments, beginning today you may see a suggestion in the Assistant tab with pre-selected photos to help you quickly archive these photos. You can review the suggestions and remove any photos you don’t want archived, and tap to confirm when you’re done.

You can also archive individual images anytime. Select the photos you want to remove from the main gallery without deleting them from your library, just tap the three dots, and choose “Archive.”

You can find archived photos anytime under “Archive” in the left hand nav, view them in albums and find them via search.

This feature is rolling out today for both Android and iOS users as well as the desktop version of Google Photos. Check it out!

Doesn’t yet auto-suggest hiding pictures of exes. 😉



Drone choreography: MIT’s programmable flying cameramen

Researchers are working to “develop a drone system that can do a camera operator’s job”:

The group calls the system “real-time motion planning for aerial videography,” and it lets a director define basic parameters of a shot, like how tight or how wide the frame should be, or the position of the subject within that frame. They can also change those settings on the fly and the drone will adjust how it’s filming accordingly. And, of course, the drone can dynamically avoid obstacles.

Check it out in action: