New Tools

New Tools Update: A Small Pre-Vacation Post

I'm about to head out of town until Netroots Nation next week, which means no weekly New Tools feature tomorrow (I know, it's strong). So to get you through the next week, here's an amazing video from Japan demonstrating holograms. Not just any holograms, mind you; holograms that you can touch! Check it out.

New Tools Update: Breakthrough in Augmented Reality Tech

Those of you who are familiar with augmented reality have probably noticed the specific high-contrast markers needed for many AR apps to work - for example, this AR business card uses a marker so that the camera knows where the card is in space and how it is oriented. Apps like AcrossAir and TwitAround don't need this, since they are relying on location information generated in other ways, but most applications that use a camera to recognize an external object and overlay information have needed these markers - until now.

As @augReality reports, "Georg Klein of Oxford University has been working on a system called PTAM - Parallel Tracking and Mapping. This is software which allows for real time tracking of a video stream, and they’ve just gotten the system running on an iPhone. Translation: no more high-contrast AR markers."

Check out the video here. This is a big deal. My guess is in the pretty near future, you'll start seeing augmented reality ads and posters, where you hold your phone up to a 2D poster and it comes to life on your screen. Check out this amazing demo video for an idea of where this software could go:

Friday New Tools Feature: A New Dimension in Media

Staying with last week's theme of futuristic stuff that's happening right now (no, not inexpensive space tourism), there were a number of major advances in the world of 3-dimensional media this week.

First up, we have crowd-sourced 3D modeling technology. It basically uses a lot of computing power to stitch together thousands or millions of tourpist photos to create detailed 3D views of particular locations. To get an idea of how this will work, check out this model made with Photosynth using Flickr photos. 

Eventually, you'll see things like this in photorealistic detail. CT2 predicts that "Eventually, every city in the world will get a full textured 3D view of itself."

If seeing a 3D model on a 2D screen doesn't do it for you, you'll be happy to know that Sky has just introduced a 3D channel, which will be available in 2010. The system will require a 3D-ready TV, and you'll have to wear polarized glasses similar to those currently used for 3D movies to get the desired effect. Still, the main takeaway is that movies and sporting events will be making their way to home systems within the year. And that's a big deal. I mean, maybe if we can get soccer in HD 3D, Americans will finally get it.

Finally, if you hate those 3D glasses but want your 3D, don't despair. Fujifilm just released a demo of one of the coolest gadgets I've seen in a while, the Finepix Real 3D W1, which is set to drop around Christmas-time. The camera takes 3D pictures which pop out of the viewscreen on the back, no glasses required. The guys at Stuff got their hands on one, and were blown away by it:

I’ve just handled the future. I feel like Rod Taylor from The Time Machine, except my means of time travel is a Barbara Windsor-like Fujifilm representative, rather than a silly brass chair with a parasol twirling pathetically out of its behind.

...the amazing bit, the bit that you’ll want to show all your friends, is that you can see the photos popping out of the rear LCD in proper 3D, without any need to wear stupid glasses. That is the wonder of a lenticular screen.

You can then get those 3D pictures on lenticular print paper (which will run you about $5 each at this point), or put them on Fuji's 8" digital 3D picture frame.

None of this really has direct applications to politics at this point in time (that I can think of). But know that 3D home entertainment, news, sports, photographs, and games are coming now, and they're going to be the next big thing.

Friday New Tools Feature: Augmented Reality Is Now a Reality

Augmented reality tech is one of the most intriguing new spaces in mobile technology. If you look it up in Wikipedia, you will learn that augmented reality is "a field of computer research which deals with the combination of real-world and computer-generated data (virtual reality), where computer graphics objects are blended into real footage in real time." That's a bit vague, however, and doesn't really capture the excitement and the promise of AR technology, which is going to be a really big deal in the near future (and if you don't have a smartphone yet, maybe this will push you over the edge).

Back when Google Latitude first launched, I wrote about how location-aware mobile technology was going to have a big impact on the way we navigate the world around us. Augmented reality provides a striking example of what I meant. Check out this video of the iPhone 3GS running the AcrossAir app, which shows you the nearest subway stops and their lines in a really useful and innovative way:

But say you're not just visiting the area, and want to find a place to stay long-term. Yes, there is an app for that too (though Layar's not on the iPhone yet):

Or, you are addicted to Twitter and want to see a live view of the recent tweets around you and where they're coming from - check out TwittaRound:

Augmented reality doesn't just have to be used with your mobile location, either; check out this AR business card (sure to get someone's attention better than an ordinary piece of paper):

There are already lots of other applications of AR under development, including an app that will help blind people navigate by sensing objects and obstacles in the environment around them. And the possibilities are almost endless. This app, which combines facial recognition with AR and social networking, is just a concept right now, but it's probably not as far off as you might think.

There are some hurdles: right now, there are a limited number of handsets with the hardware to support augmented reality, and although the iPhone can (as these videos demonstrate), Apple's API does not allow developers to fully take advantage of AR. Eventually, that will probably change, and with the slew of new Android phones about to hit the market that support AR, I think this technology is going to become much more mainstream over the next year to 18 months. Despite the usual lag time in technological adoption in politics, AR has an incredible variety of potential applications for politics; it's only a matter of time until a full-featured campaign app appears which takes advantage of AR to help canvassers perform their jobs more efficiently (for example). If you can think of other ways to use AR for politics, get moving fast enough and you might be the next app developer success story.

TODAY: Simon Rosenberg Presents The New Dawn

Please join us Thursday, August 27, at 12:15pm for a presentation of "Dawn of a New Politics" by Simon Rosenberg.

This engaging presentation makes a big argument on how politics is changing in America today, and offers ideas and strategies for how progressives can replicate our 20th century success in this new and dynamic century.

Simon has delivered his presentation "Dawn of a New Politics" all across the country over the past several years: At the DNC in Denver, twice for the House Democratic Caucus, on the Google campus, and recently before members and staff of the DSCC and DAGA, among many other gatherings.

We cordially invite you to join us-- either here in our event space, or via Web cast-- to watch and engage with this revamped presentation.

If you plan to have lunch and watch the presentation at NDN, please RSVP.

If you can't have lunch at NDN, have lunch with NDN by watching live online here.


729 15th St., NW
Washington , DC 20005
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Cool Video on the "Anthropology of Youtube"

Just wanted to share my favorite highlight from this year's PDF conference (except for Simon and Morley's session, of course). This is Michael Wesch giving an excellent talk about the intersection of technology and the "politics of authenticity," a phrase which borrows from Charles Taylor's "The Ethics of Authenticity" (one of my favorite books as an undergraduate). His generational theory has some problems (which I've mentioned to him in the comments section of his site), but even so, it's still definitely worth watching and killed with the PDF crowd. Check it out:

Friday New Tools Feature: Will Journalism Find Itself in the Obituaries?

There have been a plethora of pieces written this year about the impending death of journalism as we know it. Most of us are familiar with the general story-line - newspaper subscriptions are in decline, reporters are being laid off in droves, and nobody can figure out how to make money in online journalism. The Daily Show recently ran an amazing bit where Jason Jones asked a New York Times editor, "What's black and white and red all over?" The answer to the riddle, according to Jones? "Your balance sheets." 

But if journalism as we know it really is dying, what will come next? It's a question that no one has really figured out how to answer. At a panel at this year's Personal Democracy Forum Conference, Frank Rich and others discussed the future of journalism; Rich, one of my favorite MSM columnists, reiterated points from an article he wrote in May:

...News gathering is not to be confused with opinion writing or bloviating — including that practiced here. Opinions can be stimulating and, for the audiences at Fox News and MSNBC, cathartic. We can spend hours surfing the posts of bloggers we like or despise, some of them gems, even as we might be moved to write our own blogs about local restaurants or the government documents we obsessively study online.

But opinions, however insightful or provocative and whether expressed online or in print or in prime time, are cheap. Reporting the news can be expensive. Some of it — monitoring the local school board, say — can and is being done by voluntary “citizen journalists” with time on their hands, integrity and a Web site. But we can’t have serious opinions about America’s role in combating the Taliban in Pakistan unless brave and knowledgeable correspondents (with security to protect them) tell us in real time what is actually going on there. We can’t know what is happening behind closed doors at corrupt, hard-to-penetrate institutions in Washington or Wall Street unless teams of reporters armed with the appropriate technical expertise and assiduously developed contacts are digging night and day. Those reporters have to eat and pay rent, whether they work for print, a TV network, a Web operation or some new bottom-up news organism we can’t yet imagine.

...It’s all a matter of priorities. Not long ago, we laughed at the idea of pay TV. Free television was considered an inalienable American right (as long as it was paid for by advertisers). Then cable and satellite became the national standard.

By all means let’s mock the old mainstream media as they preen and party on in a Washington ballroom. Let’s deplore the tabloid journalism that, like the cockroach, will always be with us. But if a comprehensive array of real news is to be part of the picture as well, the time will soon arrive for us to put up or shut up. Whatever shape journalism ultimately takes in America, make no mistake that in the end we will get what we pay for.

I think that in most respects, Rich is basically correct, but on this issue he didn't nail it as well as he normally does - the picture he paints is really only part of the story. At PDF, Rich tried to illustrate this point by referencing his colleague, Roger Cohen, who was reporting from Iran. In a column, Cohen himself echoed Rich's earlier argument, explaining that

To bear witness means being there -- and that's not free. No search engine gives you the smell of a crime, the tremor in the air, the eyes that smolder, or the cadence of a scream.

No news aggregator tells of the ravaged city exhaling in the dusk, nor summons the defiant cries that rise into the night. No miracle of technology renders the lip-drying taste of fear. No algorithm captures the hush of dignity, nor evokes the adrenalin rush of courage coalescing, nor traces the fresh raw line of a welt.

Yet by far the most compelling, accurate, and up-to-date account of the Iranian uprising came not from Cohen, but from the Huffington Post's Nico Pitney, assisted by citizen journalists using Twitter, YouTube, and email (see our video of Nico speaking to these issues from this Wednesday). Arianna Huffington herself took on Cohen's assertions:

How bizarre is it that Cohen chooses to attack the tools of new-media-fueled reporting by citing the very event that highlights the power of those tools -- and the weakness of his argument?

Indeed, search engines, news aggregation, live-blogging, and "miracles of technology" such as Twitter, Facebook, and real-time video delivered via camera phones, played an indispensable part in allowing millions of people around the world to "bear witness" to what was happening in Iran.

The truth is, you don't have to "be there" to bear witness. And you can be there and fail to bear witness.

Both Rich and Huffington are correct in their own way; professional investigative journalism is vital to a functioning democracy, and the lack of good journalism can have disastrous consequences (see the Iraq war). However, the news-industrial complex already does a pretty dismal job of actually informing us about the world around us, and has for a long time (to see just how bad things have been for a long time in the corporate-run media universe, read Chomsky's classic "Manufacturing Consent" or watch the documentary). Citizen journalism has the potential to be a powerful corrective to corporate censorship and its feigned objectivity - a potential it began to realize in the 2008 elections and now in Iran.

It's true that the investigative journalism of the future will have to be paid for somehow, and aggregation is not the same thing as creation. But to survive and thrive in this new age, journalists will have to embrace the decentralization and dehierarchicalization of the internet age - and that's a good thing.


The Limits of the Digital Revolution

I write a lot about the potential of technology to improve people's lives and open up politics here and around the world. We have just seen this play out in dramatic fashion in Iran. Although it remains unclear that the technologically-supported resistance there will ultimately be successful, the impact of tools like Twitter and YouTube on the Iranian uprising is undeniable - we have the Huffington Post's Nico Pitney, who has done an unbelievable job covering Iran, coming to discuss it next Wednesday, so make sure to check out our webcast if you can't make it in person.

Yet we must remember that the transformative power of tools has everything to do with access and availability. Iran is the third-largest blogger country in the world, and has an internet penetration of around 35% - much lower than Israel's 74%, but enough to make a difference. They also have a 60% mobile phone penetration.

Contrast this with Honduras, one of the poorest countries in Latin America, which has internet penetration of just 4.5%. When Zelaya took office, 70% of Hondurans lived below the poverty line. He managed to bring that number down considerably, but it is still well over 50%, and Honduras still has the highest income inequality in Central America. Protesters in Honduras therefore have much less ability to make their voices heard - and if history is any guide, the world at large is also less likely to care. U.S. coverage of the crisis in Honduras has been far weaker than coverage of Iran.

Of course, some of this also has to do with ideology. Still, the situation there is undeniably similar to Iran; the state has seized control of the media, there have been large popular protests, and peaceful protesters fighting for their legitimate democracy have been murdered in cold blood. One of the big differences, unfortunately, is that many of President Zelaya's supporters belong to the 70% of Honduras's population living below the poverty line. They are not nearly as technically literate or privileged as Iranian university students. Nor do they have access to the hundreds of millions of dollars of U.S. aid that the Iranian resistance has had - indeed, the United States has been funding opposition groups in Honduras for years. As human rights lawyer Eva Golinger pointed out after the coup,

The majority of the recipients of [US AID] in Honduras, which comes in the form of funding, training, resources, strategic advice, communications counseling, political party strengthening and leadership training, are organizations directly linked to the recent coup d'etat.

The situations in both places have yet to play out, so we will see what happens. But it's good to remember that these events never take place in a vacuum - and if you want to know what our real foreign policy priorities are, democratic rhetoric aside, a good start is to follow the money and the media coverage.

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