Monthly Archives: May 2016

“Augmented” reality? Agony & ecstasy

Holographic body modification? Snapchat lenses rendered in real life? “They Live” playing live?

At Google I/O I started freestyling with an attendee about what we might see when—not if—wearable augmented reality becomes mainstream. He was concerned about kids like his teenage daughter punching metal into their skin, grafting on horns, etc. What if, we mused, one could apply little patches (like the NFC-enabled tattoos we were handing out) and use them to totally modify how others see us, changing everything from gender to species on the fly? If current behavior is any indication, we’ll all be human-taco hybrids. (A quarter billion views in a day! I still can’t get over that.)

Expecting less personal expression than corporate oppression, Keiichi Matsuda has conjured a terrific dystopian rendering of such a world. Check out “Hyper Reality”:

Which directions will all this take? Seems we’ll know sooner rather than later. See you in the future!


Happy Birthday, Google Photos!

 “One year, 200 million users, and a whole lot of selfies”—so notes the team blog, which provides 10 great tips plus some fun facts:

We’ve delivered more than 1.6 billion animations, collages and movies, among other things. You’ve collectively freed up 13.7 petabytes of storage on your devices—it would take 424 years to swipe through that many photos! We’ve also applied 2 trillion labels, and 24 million of those have been for … selfies.

So, what’s next? BuzzFeed interviewed Photos VP Anil Sabharwal to get some perspective. Among the hints dropped:

Photos might become smarter about the albums and movies it creates by giving them a stronger perspective and point of view. It might, for example, automatically select a wedding shot in which you and your partner are looking at each other for the hero shot in an anniversary album.


“Twenty-five million photos a week are shared by Bluetooth… How do we make proximity sharing easier? How do we help you to remember to share? How do we make it so every time I take a photo of my daughter, it’s shared with my wife?”

Onward, and please keep your ideas & requests coming!


Snapseed 2.5 delivers faster batch editing, image flipping

It’s now much faster to apply the same edits to a number of images in sequence:

Apply Last Edits from the Main Screen. Use this feature to apply the same edits on a new photo that have been applied to the last saved photo. This feature only applies adjustments that have no local dependencies (i.e. no crop, transform or brush filters)

You can also use a new toggle switch inside the Straighten filter to flip an image horizontally:

Horizontal flip. Use this feature to horizontally mirror a photo, for example to fix front camera selfies which did not get mirrored correctly by the camera app.


And last but not least:

On Android Snapseed now displays more photo metadata information, including a map if the photo contains GPS information.

[YouTube] [Via]

Google & MIT bring Lego-style coding to kids

At I/O last week Google hosted a bunch of kids to learn about new technologies & test-drive some forthcoming apps:

The team also announced a cool partnership with MIT:

Google is teaming up with MIT’s Media Lab to create Scratch Blocks, an updated version of the kid-centric programming language. Available now as a developer preview, student participants at Google’s I/O Youth event were able to get an early look at the new tools…

Scratch is a visual programming language developed by MIT’s Media Lab back in 2007  to make it easier for kids to learn the foundational knowledge required for programming and other technical skills… The update also makes it easier to bring Scratch to smaller screens like smartphones and tablets.

The team notes,

This prototype implementation of Scratch Blocks controls a LEGO WeDo 2.0 device over a bluetooth connection. 


[Via Andy Russell]

Google Photos enables batch editing of dates & times

Long a popular request from nerds like me (especially those with DSLRs), the ability to easily adjust the date & time of multiple photos has arrived on

You took a bunch of great photos with your camera. But when you uploaded them to Google Photos, you realized you forgot to correct the time zone after your last trip. So now you’re stuck with a disorganized photo library, and the thought of changing each time stamp individually makes your head hurt.

On, just select the group of photos you’d like to adjust and click “Edit date & time” in the menu dropdown. You’ll be able to shift or set the time stamps, and preview the changes before saving.

In addition, you can now delete photos directly from an album (rather than just removing them from the album): just select photos and click “Move to trash” in the menu dropdown.

Date Time


Cool 3D titles

Highly diggable work for an Adobe show:

The main imagery for the event was created as an isometric illustration by Shaivalini Kumar, an artist from New Dehli, India.
We rebuilt all the elements in 3D, then rendered the scene using global illumination, a process that simulates light bouncing and colour bleeding. This technique gave us a highly stylised look, allowing the bright colours in the scene to emit light, and the dark colours to receive light.
Maxon’s Cinema 4D was the perfect tool for the 3D animation, which we rendered with Vray for C4D. The project was edited in Adobe Premiere Pro, then Adobe After Effects was used for all compositing, along with the typography treatment for the animated speaker names.

Behind the scenes:

[Vimeo] [Via]

“What if we made a keyboard out of tiny drums?”

Clearly my neighbors are having way too much fun exploring the future of VR by rapidly creating tons of little apps:

PM Andrey Doronichev writes,

We were initially skeptical that drumsticks could be more efficient than direct hand interaction, but the result surprised us. Not only was typing with drumsticks faster than with a laser pointer, it was really fun! We even built a game that lets you track your words per minute (mine was 50 wpm!)

Now I just have to brave the egret stench to walk over and tell them to keep down the drumming noise already!


Old McPhotos had some shortcuts, E-I-E-I-O…

In Google Photos for Web, I fly through editing my images by using a few quick keyboard shortcuts. I click to open an image, tap E to open the editor, tap A to apply (or reset) Auto Enhance, press O to see before/after, and tap the arrow keys to move among images. This might help your memory:

  • A: Auto Enhance (first press toggles it on; second in sequence resets sliders to zero)
  • E: Edit (press it in lightbox to jump into the editor)
  • I: Info (press it in lightbox to show/hide the Info panel)
  • O: Original (press & hold it while editing to toggle between original & edited)
  • U: You (know I’ve run out of steam with this mnemonic ;-p)

If nothing else, remember that you can Press Shift-? to see all the shortcuts with which you can edit, enhance, delete, download, search, and more.


Adobe to power tonight’s live Simpsons episode

I’m so excited to see my old friends & teammates’ work get to step into the spotlight! The WSJ writes,

[Al] Jean and his team of animators are using software called Adobe Character Animator that will capture Castellaneta’s voice and then translate that in real time to Homer’s mouth, which will sync the movements. The animators will be able to control Homer’s movements, too, utilizing the software.

“It’s not a computer drawing; it’s animation we’ve put in there that will be activated by these buttons, these triggers,” says producer and animator David Silverman. […]

The number to call on Sunday night is 1-888-726-6660. The few fans lucky enough to get through should come prepared with something sharp.


Snapchat = Photoshop x Tenacious D

Power to the people—that’s always been my jam. Instagram made photo adjustment mainstream. Now Snapchat is making photo manipulation mainstream.

Don’t believe me? On May 5 alone, 224 million people saw pictures of each other turned into taco-heads (below), each with a Taco Bell ad attached. Per AdWeek:

The average user played with Taco Bell’s ad for 24 seconds before sending it as a “snap.” In terms of unique plays—or the number of times individual people interacted with the ad—the campaign generated 12.5 years’ worth of play in a day.

Prior to that, on Super Bowl Sunday alone 165 million people saw images featuring a Gatorade dump. One can only guess how many swap faces, add masks, and share the results each day.

It makes me think of absurdist rock duo Tenacious D. Realizing that straight-faced metal can get only so hard (it eventually tops out with Norwegian cookie-monster vocals, etc.), they mastered that idiom, then busted right through the limits by making it insanely funny (and just insane). In the same way Snapchat combines technical excellence with a playful context. As a Taco Bell manager says,

“The content is expected to be lightweight and humorous, and the platform empowers you to be nimble and efficient in creation… That doesn’t mean it’s not an artful craft, however.”

 Earlier this year I wrote,

The genius of Instagram was in helping regular people be better. The genius of Snapchat was in letting people not care

 But that undersells their accomplishment. Context (expectations) + Power catalyzes creative output.

It’s very easy to look down one’s nose (“oh, it’s not really creative, you can do just whatever they spoon-feed you, disposible ≠ valuable”) and not be wholly wrong. Yet Snapchat has gotten hundreds of millions of people creating, and at a visual level that otherwise would have been completely out of reach. And that is power to the people.


The New Yorker cover goes augmented reality

Having made an animated GIF raindrop cover for the magazine a couple of years back (and my kid into a lion via his Petting Zoo app), Christoph Niemann has outdone himself to create a 3D AR experience that one can view by pointing a tablet at the magazine. Behold:

The mag writes,

According to the illustrator, the animated version is embedded with hidden surprise details that viewers can discover by moving and tilting their device. The free app, created for The New Yorker by London studio Nexus Interactive Arts, also allows full-page Qualcomm adverts on the inside covers to become interactive.



Google Photos adds commenting, suggests images to share

Good stuff is rolling out across iOS, Android, and Web. TheNextWeb writes,

Now anyone who has joined a shared album can add comments to both individual photos and entire albums.

Meanwhile the company is also adding a ‘smart suggestions’ feature to make it easier to contribute to albums you’ve been invited to. As the name implies, Photos will guess which of your photos you might want to add to the album, analyzing them to see which ones might correspond with a particular event.

As always, feedback is most welcome!


Demo: Artistic style transfer for video

Check out this amazing hotness from Manuel Ruder, Alexey Dosovitskiy and Thomas Brox:


The creators write,

In the past, manually re-drawing an image in a certain artistic style required a professional artist and a long time. Doing this for a video sequence single-handed was beyond imagination. Nowadays computers provide new possibilities. We present an approach that transfers the style from one image (for example, a painting) to a whole video sequence.

So, when can regular users get access to this stuff? Seems like it’ll be a while yet: The algorithm takes 3 minutes per frame to run (i.e. an hour and a half per second of video!)—but that’s down from other recent techniques that required 2 hours per frame.


[YouTube] [Via]

Great presentation tips from TED’s Chris Anderson

“Your number one task as a speaker,” says TED impresario Chris Anderson*, “is to transfer into your listeners’ minds an extraordinary gift — a strange and beautiful object that we call an idea.” Among his key points in this great eight-minute talk:

  • One, limit your talk to just one major idea.
  • Two, give your listeners a reason to care.
  • Three, build your idea, piece by piece, out of concepts that your audience already understands.
  • Four, here’s the final tip: Make your idea worth sharing. 

*See also this really interesting profile of him. [Via Lin Sebastian Kaiser]

Photography: A jellyfish moment of zen

Lovely aliens among us—if you count 2.3 miles under the surface of the sea as being “among us”:

Deep-diving NOAA writes,

This stunningly beautiful jellyfish was seen during Dive 4 of the 2016 Deepwater Exploration of the Marianas expedition on April 24, 2016, while exploring Enigma Seamount at a depth of ~3,700 meters.

Scientists identified this hydromedusa as belonging to the genus Crossota. Note the two sets of tentacles — short and long. At the beginning of the video, you’ll see that the long tentacles are even and extended outward and the bell is motionless. This suggests an ambush predation mode. Within the bell, the radial canals in red are connecting points for what looks like the gonads in bright yellow.


[YouTube] [Via]

Animation: Kung Fu motion becomes sculptural

Gorgeous motion capture & visualization from Tobias Gremmler:

In a related vein, these four quick identities transform motion into materials:

Motion sculpture of steel reflects old Chinese adage that true power is mastering yourself. Youthful energy of dancers evolve into beautiful organic sculpture. Colorful happiness is the engine of father’s and his daughter’s joy. Two lovers visualize fragility and vitality of love in the last Ident.

[Via Alex Powell]