Say Goodbye To Waiting In Line

What if we could create a shopping experience with no lines and no checkout? This is what Amazon was asking itself when it started development on a little thing called Amazon Go four years ago. Here’s the lowdown.

I wrote a little piece here on how robots are capable of even replacing us when it comes to creative writing, so it’s no surprise to see robots replacing more menial jobs.

How are they going to do it? Amazon says by pushing the boundaries of machine learning, sensor fusion, computer vision, and a bunch of other technological mumbojumbo, they will create a store where people can just pick up stuff and go. Put simply their new tech can detect when products are taken from or returned to the shelves and keep track of them in a virtual cart. Shortly after leaving the store your Amazon account will be charged and a receipt sent to you.

All one will need is an Amazon account and the free app (and a phone that can run it). Amazon Go will be the name of app, whilst Just Walk Out Shopping seems to be the name of technology behind it all.

The first Amazon store fitted with this technology has already technically opened in my birthplace – Seattle, Washington! At the moment it’s exclusively open to Amazon employees, but it’s due to open to the public in 2017.

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Seems flashy enough

Of course some of the internet has already erupted in techno-phobic hysteria due to possibility of more job losses, despite the fact that new technology will create new and different kinds of jobs and more importantly even the majority of people working in retail are simply not happy in retail, at least not behind a cash register at a grocery store working for minimum wage.

I reckon it will be many years before we see this technology in the big-name supermarkets, but hell maybe with this new technology Amazon Go will come to even replace the likes of Walmart in the US and become a big name supermarket, regardless, it will surely make our lives just that bit more convenient and change the lives of the countless people who are misemployed, allowing them to do more valuable things, for themselves and society, as opposed to the operation of a cash register – even if it’s working exclusively on the store-floor of the same grocery store talking to & helping customers – it’s more rewarding than having the job of an automaton.

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Nintendo Switches It Up… Kinda

The next generation of consoles are sweeping in already, all the while the Xbox One and the PS4 are still being referred to as next gen, despite the fact that they’ve been current gen for 3 years now.

Nintendo Switch, formerly known as Nintendo NX, was finally officially revealed a couple of weeks ago now and it’s garnished a pretty deadly response with 20 million views and a phenomenal half a million likes already.

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Reginald “Reggie” Fils-Aimé, Prince-Reagent at Nintendo.

Nintendo has been the king of gimmicks this last decade, but it hasn’t been a  bad thing, as a PC gamer, Nintendo produces the only consoles I’m actually ever interested in, because they’re not just budget PC’s wrapped in a nice branded box.

Whether it was the DS with it’s touch screen, it’s Wii and its motion controller, or it’s 3D screen on the 3Ds, all of which where extremely successful, Nintendo proved that games with fun, simple, and creative mechanics tailored to the hardware its on are more successful than traditional AAA games that rely on immense graphics & realism.

So what’s the gimmick with the Switch? Well, it’s actually a whole range of gimmicks that come together and form something that seems pretty damn cool.

From the ad it’s clear it’s essentially the tablet controller from the Wii U, except the ‘controller’ is the console itself! It can be plugged in to your TV like a conventional games console, but it’s also portable and can be played like a 3DS anywhere, it even shows another way of playing on the go where you can sit back and use your controller like the good ol’ WiiMote & Nunchuck.

The Wii U and the 3DS both sold incredibly well among teenagers & young adults(like myself), so it’s no surprise to see this ad tailored totally to ‘hip millennials’ as opposed to their usual target audience of families and little kids.

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Announcing Elder Scrolls GO

How powerful will it be though? Well it’s not really known, but we do see Skyrim being played on it here, whether this is the newly remastered version or the original release from 2011 is hard to tell. If this machine is truly ‘next gen’ it should at least be on par with Xbox One graphics, but you just never know with Nintendo, and it’s absolute portability makes it seem unlikely that it will be that high-end. I hope I’m wrong.

What’s interesting is the Switch seeks to replace the Nintendo’s 3DS(which my friend wrote about in more detail here) while simultaneously taking over the Wii U, so a lot is banking on its success when it comes out in March 2017.

Neo-Storytelling

This time last year I believed the only decent form of truly interactive storytelling could be done through video games, and I’m here to admit I was definitely wrong.

What I really enjoyed most studying concepts & collaboration in the digital humanities was delving into other forms of interactive media – which I wrote about briefly in my ‘storytime’ blog post last year.

Bear 71 by Leanne Allison and Jeremy Mendes is an interactive documentary following the life and death of a grizzly bear in a Canadian national park, who was collared at the age of three. It was a decent concept for a traditional documentary, but it was made a particularly enjoyable and more impactful story as we the viewers (or perhaps more aptly put the players) got to navigate the documentary at our own pace, gloss over what we as individuals found necessary or interesting, and just become absolutely immersed for half an hour or so in a way that you really can’t with a traditional documentary.

Something I enjoyed even more, however, was S., written by Doug Durst, and conceived by Sci-Fi king J. J. Abrams himself. It’s a testament to the fact that interactive media doesn’t necessarily need to be digital. An article on The Chicago Tribune declares the novel “part work of art, literary experiment, and love letter to the physical expression of books”, and I’d be inclined to agree. I’m not a big book reader myself but the concept alone was enough for me to love it. It’s essentially a book within a book with supplementary material, and it was this simple extra physical material, like a compass and some fake photographs stashed in the middle, that are used to understand the story more thoroughly, that made the novel so much more wonderful & immersive.

Everything said and done I still think video games are the best way to engage & interact with a story, and I believe what I’ve mentioned above works so well ultimately because they’ve been gamified – they are mechanically very similar to classic point & click adventure games like Grim Fandango, and the more recent Broken Age.

Ultimately now that virtual reality is finally becoming a physical reality, and having tried Oculus Rift & the HTC Vive myself, I’m more excited than ever for the influx of more unique interactive media.

OpenStreetMap – In Review

Open Street Map was launched back in 2005, created by Steve Coast, an entrepreneur from Walderslade, London, it’s similar to the likes of Google Maps, except far more detailed and most of all open source.  Open Street Mapping is the method of editing Open Street Map in real time, with emphasis on placing buildings and roads on a map, and then labeling the specifics of them, so not just a building but also the buildings function, for example is it residential, commercial, or industrial? If it is residential what is its address? If it is commercial what is the name of the business? It is very specific and offers a lot that big money maps like Google Maps just don’t. Another thing one can map on to it that is unusual but very helpful are the likes of walking trails, which is great for anything from finding shortcuts to going on hikes. One’s contribution to a map is also recorded and visible by other potential mappers who may then adjust the contributions, “validate” them, or comment them if they so desire.

Prior to contributing to Open Street Map as part of my digital tools & methodologies class, I have to admit that I had previously not even heard of it.  As part of this assignment, I was required to register with Open Street Map and either contribute to a Humanitarian Task, or to a Neighborhood (local or otherwise) with which we are familiar.

I personally chose to do my own small Neighborhood and some of its surroundings, around Ballysheedy, in county Limerick, just a few kilometres south of the city. I felt that it was not adequately represented, and the majority of my class comrades were doing the humanitarian task anyway so I thought I’d be a special snowflake.

The map service itself is quite fantastic in my opinion, it uses Bing Maps by default as an overlay for the majority of the data entered by individual users. This all enables mappers to apply their “Local Knowledge” to OSM, which can be very beneficial to the world, especially for humanitarian missions. My own knowledge of my country suburb of Ballysheedy allowed me to give a more detailed rundown of the place, for example I was able to tag buildings as commercial that from simply looking at the Bing Maps overlay merely look residential.

The likes of Google Maps on the other hand will only include this if the infortmation is readily available and beneficial to the masses, not just the locals or passer-by’s, which is understandable, it takes a lot of time to map this much detail, but it is slightly unfortunate that they don’t and that volunteers must do the work.

One feature in particular I quite enjoyed was ability to access historical maps of the area that you are editing, as opposed to just the Bing Map. This can be easily accessed through the side panel while in edit mode. It was very interesting to see how my little suburb has appeared over the years, from just a couple of houses stretched across, being mostly farmland in the 20th century, to the growing county suburb that it is today!

The most enjoyable part of the whole exercise was knowing this could affect people in the world looking in to the area, I wanted to map Ballysheedy and its surroundings as precisely as I could to do it justice, for the first time ever I have the power to put my little home on the map – literally, so I spent well over an hour mapping all of the buildings and fixing up some incorrect notches in the roads, doing things only a local could do, and I felt kind of special for it. By the end of my time mapping I had added over 100 new features to the neighborhood – mostly buildings in the form of houses, and corrected about a dozen deficiencies, mostly slight things wrong in the roads.

I think as someone who learns by visuals I liked the fact that it was hands on and that I was able to see the fruits of my labour so to speak practically immediately. I think I’ve fallen in love with the idea of crowdsourcing, and really getting work done as a team, after using Open Street Map, seeing everyone else who had worked in that area before, being able to approve of their work, and then expand upon it, and know that someone can come along and look at my work as I looked at the work before me. Ultimately I think what Open Street Map is doing is very noble, and I think there’s a lot more to it then the handiness of throwing in extra details in places akin to my cosy neighborhood here in Ireland. I will definitely attempt a humanitarian Open Street Map task soon, now that I’ve learned how to use the editor most efficiently.

GIMP Photo Editor – In Review

GIMP (an acronym for GNU Image Manipulation Program) is a free and open-source graphics editor, often used for image retouching and editing, cropping, resizing, photo montages, image conversion, free-form drawing, and even more specialized tasks.

It is quite similar to Photoshop or Serif Photo Plus, except that it’s free (and in my opinion more user friendly). The ‘basic tool’ – which in my opinion is quite complex –  may even be augmented by plug-ins and extensions that allow the use of new file formats, effects filters and batch processing capabilities.

 GIMP began in 1995, just 20 years ago, as a class project among 2 university students, and now it has grown immensely! It’s a full-fledged application, available on all types of Linux, OS X, and Microsoft Windows. It is, as I stated, entirely free for anybody – and not just to use! Absolutely anybody can look at its contents and source code to add features and fix issues.

It is truly a wonderful program – it’s expandable and extensible. What is more even more amazing about GIMP is that it’s almost entirely developed by volunteers as a free software project under the banner of the GNU Project. Development takes place in a public git source code repository, on public mailing lists, and in public chat channels on the GIMPNET IRC network.

Personally I use GIMP for everything I do in the graphical world, this includes anything from this featured image of myself on this blog post to my multimedia assignments in College! I don’t have it extremely customized or anything because to be honest the default works beautifully for me, but I love the fact that I know that I can assort absolutely everything in any way I imagine and desire.

When editing or manipulating images I can seamlessly switch between different editing windows, while the toolboxes and option-boxes remain in place, which is fantastic. Many people prefer the single-windowed mode, like Photoshop, as they believe it makes the user more engaged, that option is there too! If you’re someone who does the same thing most times when using a graphic editor, like me, who mostly uses cutting tools and colourizing you can customize your toolbox to prioritize and thus display only the tools you use most, and then you can also tag the likes of brushes to keyboard keys for quick access!

As I said GIMP is extremely intuitive and user friendly when it comes to its user interface. Many of the tools have sliders (for example ‘Opacity’ or ‘Angle’), and many other things are done by clicking a tool and swooshing the mouse a certain way (for example ‘Skewing’ or ‘Resizing’.

There are also fantastic colourizing options, including colour curving, along with the likes of saturation and brightness sliders that are super easy to use. But GIMP isn’t just for editing photos and manipulating images, many people using GIMP with a graphics tablet as a digital painting tool!

There are countless brushes, with of course the possibility to import or create your own, and each of which are all customizable with sliders – brush size, angle, opacity etc. There are also all imaginable export options where one can chose the file type & quality.

But how is it compared to the likes of Adobe Photoshop CC? Photoshop is the industry gold standard when it comes to image editing and digital art on both Windows and Mac OS, it is so widely used that ‘Photoshopped’ has practically become a verb!

Photoshop succeeds over GIMP in some ways: It of course is compatibile with other Adobe products, like ‘Lightroom’.Its online support is fantastic, and it has tons of plugins, tools, and filters. By contrast some of GIMP’s tools aren’t as polished as their retrospective versions within Photoshop, there’s also less support (albeit still quite a lot).

In conclusion, GIMP goes absolutely beyond my expectations as a free piece of software, and easily rivals the likes of Adobe Photoshop CC, which the Extended version along with a ‘Photoshop Element’ would exceed €1000 (hence why an estimated over half of Photoshop users have pirated copies). As a ‘lite’ user of GIMP myself, so to speak, I thoroughly believe it is superior in every single way to Photoshop, but if I were a highly paid professional I may still be more inclined towards Photoshop, for the few benefits it does boast. Every iteration however is getting even better and more user friendly, and as it’s growing rapidly every day the level of product support may soon rival that of Photoshop’s.