May the 4th

May the 4th (reprinted from the Metro Spirit 4-30-15)

Unless you’ve been living under a rock on one of the Outer Rim systems, you’ve heard by now that the next installment of Star Wars will premier later this year.  For those who have spent the last couple of years on Geonosis, the new movie is called Episode VII – The Force Awakens and will take place after the events in Return of the Jedi.  In celebration of Star Wars day this Monday, I’ve prepared the following list of non-spoiler trivia to help you embrace your inner Wookie.  (See and MANY other Internet sites for more.)

  • Star Wars fans are anxiously waiting for the movie.  After being released last week on YouTube, the second teaser trailer reached more than 20 million views in less than 24 hours.
  • With an official release date of December 18, 2015 (in the United States), this is the first Star Wars movie to be released in December.  Every other Star Wars movie has been released in May.
  • The Force Awakens is released two days earlier in Europe with Italy being the first country to show the movie.
  • The Force Awakens takes place 31 years after Return of the Jedi, 56 years after Revenge of the Sith, and 69 years after The Phantom Menace.
  •  This is the second Star Wars film to be released in IMAX, but it’s the first to use IMAX cameras during filming.
  •  This is the first Star Wars file to be released in IMAX 3D.  However, the movie is not  to be filmed in native 3D.  It will be converted to stereoscopic 3D during post-production.
  • J.J. Abrams becomes the first director to direct a Star Trek film and a Star Wars film.
  • The original script focused on the re-establishment of the New Republic after the fall of the Empire.  While the main characters of the original saga, Luke, Leia and Han Solo, appeared in the script, their children would be the main characters of the new story.  This version of the story was rejected, and a new story written.
  •  In a 1983 interview, Mark Hamill stated that George Lucas considered bringing back Luke Skywalker in a yet-to-be-determined Episode VII that would not occur until 2011.
  • While filming during the summer of 2014, Harrison Ford broke his ankle on the door of the Millennium Falcon.
  • Walt Disney purchased Lucasfilm in 2012, and this will be the first Star Wars film to be distributed by Walt Disney Pictures.  The price paid for Lucasfilm: $4 billion.  The revenue expected from The Force Awakens: Over $2 billion.  (Not including merchandising.)
  •  With the release of The Force Awakens, Princess Leia becomes the oldest Disney princess.  Who does she beat out?   The previous oldest princess was Elsa from Frozen.  (I know that disappoints the hardcore Frozen fans, but let it go already.)

Until next time…

Reach Out and Touch Someone

Reach Out and Touch Someone (reprinted from the Metro Spirit 4-23-15)

The Apple Watch is just around the corner.  True to their cause, the Apple faithful will form lines out the door in anticipation of the release.  Unlike other Apple products, I believe many others will observe from afar.  Some skepticism is associated with this product.  The size of the screen is the obvious limiting factor.  The utility of such a device escapes the average consumer.  This should not come as a surprise to fans of wearable devices.  When it comes to touch screens, bigger almost always means better.

So what is it that makes Apple believe that the Watch will be a success?  It comes down to one thing:  touch.  The Apple Watch and all other wearable tech are the first mainstream devices designed to utilize the sense of touch.  Specifically, the Apple Taptic engine inside the Apple Watch provides the user a wide variety of touch sensations.  Apple utilizes this feature in a couple of novelty applications – tap the screen to “poke” someone nearby, or use the built-in heart rate monitor to measure and share your heartbeat with a loved one.

Once the Apple Watch is released, developers will certainly develop novel approaches to use touch features.  Are you looking for a friend in a crowded area?  An app that taps harder as you get closer would certainly be useful.  Do you lose track of your speed while driving?  A little vibration might be just enough of a signal to get you back under the speed limit.  And what is more likely to get your detention from your algebra teacher:  passing notes behind their back, or using your wearable to tap out texts in Morse code.

The touch feedback created by wearable devices possesses an even more significant impact.  These devices create the means to create involuntary responses to haptic stimuli, a.k.a., a conditioned reflex.  This response is analogous to the famous experiments performed by Ivan Pavlov.  In the most famous of these experiments, Pavlov would ring a bell while a dog ate a meal.  Over time, the dog would salivate at the sound of the bell even though no food was present.  During the early 1900s, Pavlov’s experiments included conditioning of children using wrist stimulation and cookies.  As a matter of fact, you can find some rather disturbing video of these experiments on You Tube.

Different types of conditioning are associated with aversion therapy techniques, and apps written for the Apple Watch could be used to help the wearer avoid certain behaviors.  For example, a user may desire additional stimuli to supplement their efforts to stop smoking.  Monitoring credit card or Apple Pay transactions in real-time, the app would detect when the wearer bought a pack of cigarettes.  In response, the watch would generate an annoying vibration or possibly even a pinprick simulation to remind the user that this is not acceptable behavior.

A more interesting scenario involves the use of stimuli to reinforce behavior.  A hypothetical scenario that I attribute to no one in particular comes to mind.  A wearer walks into their favorite pastry shop.  This wearer orders their favorite strawberry and chocolate pastries and proceeds to immediately nibble on their sweets.  A well-designed application would surmise that the wearer was indeed eating pastries from the following information:  the credit card transaction of the purchase, the user location in the store from GPS, and the eating action based on arm motion.

While the user was eating, suppose the watch provided a distinctive yet almost imperceptible touch.  Over the course of many visits to this pastry store, wouldn’t it be possible to condition the wearer to respond to this distinctive touch?  Of course it would!  After the wearer was conditioned, this distinctive touch could be sent to the wearer, and out of nowhere, the wearer would develop a craving for the particular pastry.  Would the wearer know that they’ve been conditioned?  Possibly, but it doesn’t really matter.  All they want is that pastry!

Is this scenario a stretch for the current Apple Watch?  Probably, but it’s something worth considering.  The idea of physically interacting with someone over the Internet is still only in the world of science fiction.  However, the Apple Watch and this generation of wearable devices demonstrate that it’s truly possible to reach out and touch someone.

Until next time@gregory_a_baker


Then versus Now

Then versus Now (reprinted from the Metro Spirit 4-16-15)



Growing up in Columbia County back in the early 1980s was a much different experience than you find today.  The growth, of course, is easy to see.  Back then, there were only two high schools (with split sessions) versus the five today.  Washington Road was a two-lane road with only a single stop light between Bobby Jones Expressway and Lincolnton. And, back in the day, we would have to put the trucks in four-wheel drive and cut across three or four different cow fields when driving into Richmond County to see a movie at Master’s Cinema.

What’s more difficult to see is the impact of the Internet on kids today.  Technology is changing the way kids grow up.  Remember the fights you had with your parents to get a phone line run into your bedroom?  Well, my daughters are going to middle school next year, and we were told that 80 percent of middle school students have their own smartphone.  Given that level of connectivity within a group of young adults still in their formative years, it’s obvious that the shared experience of our children will be much different that ours.

But, will it be better or worse?  Maybe a quick analysis of Then-versus-Now will help us sort it out.

Video Rental versus Netflix – Video rental is one of the top five quintessential activities of the 1980s.  The video rental store was the top entertainment destinations on Friday and Saturday nights.  You would want to go early before all the new releases were sold out.  If nothing was available, you might end up searching forever for the perfect evening rental.  Of course, there was no reason to try and hurry – you would always run into someone you know.  You couldn’t avoid it.  Everyone was there.

The downside to video rental can be summed up in five words – “Please be kind and rewind.”  Netflix and the other Internet streaming services are infinitely more convenient.  Also, online services never sell out.  While we miss seeing our friends and neighbors, we don’t miss them enough to give up our Internet.  The edge goes to Netflix.

Passing Notes versus Texting – The first time that a girl professed her love to me was via note in the 7th grade.  I thought she drew very pretty hearts.  Unfortunately for me, a few minutes later her best friend told me that the note was meant for the guy sitting two rows over.  (Oh well.)  Today, this occurrence would be attributed to auto-correct.  Personally, I don’t think that asking someone to “go with you” via text carries the same impact as a handwritten note.  However, kids communicate differently today, and texting is integral to their communication.  I’m calling this a push.

Arcade versus MMOG – Another one of the defining institutions of the 1980s, video arcades, became anchor tenants in every shopping mall in America.  In Augusta, it was the Gold Mine at Augusta Mall and Fun-N-Games at Regency Mall.  (Yes, it’s true, my young padawan…I have seen it with mine own eyes…)  We spent countless hours and an untold number of quarters seeking mastery of some of the greatest names in video game history:  Space Invaders, Pac Man, Galaga, Donkey Kong, Frogger, Q*bert, Centipede and Pole Position.  The ultimate badge of honor came when you surpassed a high score, and you were allowed to place your three initials onto the top score list for all of your friends and rivals to envy.

While the new online games may technically be better games (certainly in terms of production quality), nothing matches the experience of the arcade.  You weren’t just playing games; you were part of a movement.  The arcade experience is the winner.

Madonna v. Miley – Can there be any real argument over this one?  The 1980s might be the greatest decade of popular music ever.  Let’s just go through the list: Michael Jackson, Madonna, Genesis, Duran Duran, Journey, George Michael, Billy Idol, AC/DC, Queen, Aerosmith, KISS, Motley Crue, Van Halen, Guns’n’Roses, Janet Jackson, U2, Run DMC, LL Cool J, Beastie Boys, B-52’s, REM, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and the list goes on and on and on.  From break dancing to punk rock to heavy metal to new wave to rap and even a touch of country…this is the music that continues to set the standard.  So with all due respect to Katy Perry, Lady Gaga and the Black Eyed Peas, the music of the 1980s is the champion.

Facebook versus McDonald’s Parking Lot – Facebook, Instagram and the other social networks’ success occur because of their ability to create online communities.  Members of these communities “like” and “follow” each other.  They talk to each other by “posting” on each other’s “walls.”  This behavior is not unique to social networks.  Before Facebook, people talked to each other and followed one another in a more direct manner.  For example, every weekend night, the vast majority of Evans High would meet and hang out at the McDonald’s parking lot in the West Town Shopping Center.  Instead of posting comments, we would just talk to each other.  You know…just hanging out.

I know, I know.  The idea of a large number of teenagers showing up at one spot just to hang out might scare some folks.  But, before smartphones, that’s the way it used to be done.  Social networks help keep folks connected, especially if a large distance separates them.  However, I can’t believe Facebook will ever replace hanging out.  The edge goes to the McDonald’s Parking Lot.

So in this brief, non-scientific survey, it appears that things were better back then.  I guess that I have to admit I’m a little biased.  And maybe I’m just a little scared to think about how different my children’s life might be when compared to mine.  At the end of the day, all you can do is trust that the system that God put in place will keep us all working according to plan.

And, we should also be very thankful we no longer have to drive across cow fields to go to the movies.

Until next time @gregory_a_baker