CES 2016: From the Fringes

The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is the premier trade show for tech product previews and release announcements, going as far back as the VCR in 1970 to Driverless Cars in 2013*. This year the CES featured about 3800 exhibitors, spanning 2.47 million sq. ft. spread out over 3 locations** visited by 170,000 media and industry professionals — and I was privileged to count myself amongst them. Featuring keynote addresses from Intel, Netflix, IBM, Samsung, nVidia, Volkswagen and other big names, a lot has been written, presented and shared on mainstream as well as social media about the 4 day event. This chart sums it up the hype pretty well:

Source: BuzzRadar.com

Source: BuzzRadar, CTA

I decided to share some of my views from the fringes, rather than the trenches — there is no point in rinsing and repeating what is already out there, nor do I have any delusions about the value of my personal opinion about tech that enables your car to count how many oranges are left in your fridge (yes, it was demoed, with voice control).

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The Oculus Rift demo was by far the hardest to get into — there was a line, a line to get in the line, and a third holding area. Eventually I made it on the last day, and it took me about 20 min to recover from the simulator sickness caused by piloting EVE Valkyrie’s spacecraft from a living room chair. I still felt there were rough edges and the HTC Vive was by far a more refined, immersive and truly flawless experience. The new Sony PlayStation 4 VR was quite impressive as well: I could lean out of a moving car and look behind me, and the granularity of control was so good I could rotate knobs on the car stereo. OSVR.org based devices were quite popular too, and some others that caught my eye were Virtuix Omni active VR platform, AntVR’s Holodeck concept and ICAROS‘ EUR 10,000 gym equipment that lets you fly around in a virtual world powered by your own body. Certainly beats playing first person shooters wearing VR googles on a treadmill, or riding a virtual horse on a exercycle.

There were tons of clones (mostly based on Gear VR) and drones. Augmented Reality seems to be gaining ground, but despite solutions like the Sony SmartEyeglass and Daqri Smart Helmet, VR seems to be more popular of the two. It’s worth noting that virtually every VR or AR demo was running on Unity3D content, including those at NASA and IEEE’s booths.

I also tried my hand at racing simulators of various scales: from small VR setups, to actual cars mounted on motion platforms, to a massive 4×4 grid of 55″ OLEDs in front of a force feedback seat rig. There were several interesting display technologies on show: 3D without glasses, transparent (scaling up to entire walls), curved and Samsung’s modular, edge-blending display tech straight out of a sci-fi movie. Avegant’s Glyph might turn the display industry on it’s head, though, much like the way it’s worn.

SamsungModular_c

 

On the automotive side, voice, gesture and intent based user interfaces seem to be gaining ground. Also making an appearance were adaptive user interfaces and improvements in sensor fusion, self-learning and self-driving techniques. There were tons of wearables, 3D printing and home automation booths. The two core themes seemed to be a maturing of the ecosystem (just about everything built on top of something else, not too many technologies solving problems from scratch) and apps for doing things that don’t need apps, like locking your front door. You’d think we would stop there, but no:

On the social innovation side, I found GrandPad, Casio’s 2.5D printing and the Genworth R70i Aging Experience very thoughtful. Besides these, I liked Mixfader‘s idea of an MVP slider for mobile DJs: after all, the crossfader is the main thing that requires precise tactile control, everything else can be relegated to the screen. Also impressive was Sony’s line of 409,600 ISO see-completely-in-the-dark cameras. And this is now a thing:

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You’d also probably be able to find a lot of beautiful photos of Las Vegas on the Internet, so let me leave you with this video of a not-so-common Las Vegas activity that I squeezed in on the last day, courtesy of DreamRacing.com (very fringe-y because I picked a Nissan over a Ferrari). Thanks for reading!

* Apple, Google and Microsoft have their own tech events and despite the Xbox (2001) and Android devices (2010) being unveiled at CES, these companies tend to keep their product announcements exclusive to their own events. So no Hololens at CES.

** „Tech East (Las Vegas Convention Center), Tech West (Sands/Expo at the Venetian,  The Palazzo, Wynn and Encore) and Tech South (Aria and Vdara)

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India: As seen from Hungary

I get asked a lot of friendly questions about India from my curious colleagues at work. The more we talk, the more I realize that India and Hungary are not so different after all. Last week I presented this prezi during a team building event at work, in the ambitious attempt to answer all the questions (and myths) in one place. IndiaPreziSnapshot On a related note, it was my first prezi and I am hooked to the product. Although I had some minor glitches towards the end, overall I am quite sure I wouldn’t have been able to achieve the same effect with the same ease of use had I used Powerpoint instead, even if I had spent more than twice the time on it.

Budapest, Hungary – 5 Month Roundup

In November 2013 I put SafeRoads India on hold, accepted a short-term project contract and moved to Budapest, Hungary with my wife. It wasn’t planned and both of us weren’t sure of what to expect, but an opportunity to work in Europe is not something that comes by very often. Besides, who doesn’t want to see the world?

The Good

We knew language would be a challenge. Hungarian is widely quoted as one of the most difficult foreign languages to learn. Some of the words and places sound like Elvish. Most of the information we could find online in English was for tourists. I tried to buy a book on Hungarian before we left, but I couldn’t find one. Google Translate for Hungarian to English is a shame (I’d say it has about a 40% success rate). After coming here we discovered that there are a lot more English-understanding/speaking people on the Pest side (even the announcements in the tram switch to English). We haven’t yet found ourselves in a shopping or traveling situation where language was a barrier.

We had also heard that Hungarian bureaucracy is notoriously hard to deal with, but in hindsight we’ve dealt with much worse in India. There was a fair bit of visits to various government offices involved after we arrived. Without the help from my office though, we wouldn’t have been able to figure out where to go and what to do. Interestingly a lot of offices don’t have the same opening hours on all days of the week.

Everyone here follows traffic rules, although with the onset of spring some people seem to be losing patience. Pedestrians are given right of way, unlike in India where they risk death or grevious injury every minute. There are hardly any SUVs, the city is trying very hard to become bike-friendly and they still have awesome Ladas. Actually you can find almost every car here, from 3-axle Hummer Limos, UK-registered Land Rovers, Slovakia-registered Maseratis, Ferraris for rent, Czech Skodas, Japanese Evos & GTRs, and of course the boring German Audis & BMWs. A lot of the everyday cars sold here are the same as India (especially the Suzukis). One thing to look out for is the emergency vehicles. They get on to the tram tracks if there is too much traffic, and their speed & skill will put WRC drivers to shame (imagine an ambulance in opposite lock).

The Bad

Finding an apartment was a bit of a struggle. Several people at work were genuinely helpful, but we had to narrow down from our search results to a handful of English speaking agencies. We ended up with one where we’re paying a bit of a premium price, but we had hoped that the lack of a language barrier would be worth it. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been a very pleasant or reassuring experience so far. I’ll reserve the story for a separate post, but on the positive side, I’m convinced that real estate agencies taking advantage of foreigners is not a regular practice. We were just in the right place at the wrong time.

The Beautiful

Compared to living in a city like Bangalore in India, the cost of living is lower (yes, lower), especially considering the quality of life. Even as outsiders, we feel relatively safer almost everywhere we go. Hungarians don’t seem to agree, but they have world class public transport. Case in point: I have witnessed at least on 4 occasions a disruption in the tram lines due to a car accident, or some other fault. The authorities react in minutes, reversing tram directions, making announcements on the tram stations, sometimes deploying shuttle buses between stations, and even deploying personnel to redirect the clueless tourists. 35 Euros will buy you unlimited travel by tram, bus, trolleybus, boat, metro and train within city limits… for an entire month. By contrast, Switzerland was approximately 10 times, for 3 days.

Most public spaces, roads and sidewalks are fairly clean (not Scandinavian clean, but also not Paris dirty). Their heritage and history is proudly preserved in the beautiful, decades (often, centuries) old buildings that line just about every street (post-1940 buildings are considered “new”). A lot of the city’s impressive features have been rebuilt after destruction in war. Locals generally have either strong pro-German or pro-Russian views and are not afraid to state them. There are 10 bridges across the Danube, each of them with an interesting history of its own.

The food is excellent, and virtually every cuisine in the world can be found here. Including at least 4 Indian restaurants that we know of. And there are a couple of Indian stores where everything can be found, if you are willing to pay the price… But in general, food is quite reasonably priced, drinks are cheap and ingredients are fresh. Service charge is often added to the bill, but if not, 10% is accepted with a gracious smile (I had to get used to tipping in coins though – Indian coins are of too little value to use as tips). Although I love soups, being vegetarian I haven’t been able to try the famed gulyás (“goulash”). But there are plenty of food options (and growing) for vegetarians and vegans here. Nevertheless, Hungarians eat everything from snails to wild boar 🙂

Budapest is extremely tourist friendly. I can not overemphasize this. There is a published list of establishments and taxi companies with a known record of shady behavior. English-speaking students accompany cops in downtown areas to provide assistance. Despite the insanely high amounts of alcohol consumed per hour, including very potent Pálinka, disorderly conduct is extremely rare. Oddly, public transport is more packed at midnight than during the morning “rush hour” (yes, certain trams run the entire night). Sometimes there is harmless singing of Christmas Carols at 3 AM on the street in a drunken high pitched voice, though. I’m told it gets worse in the summer. And you are more likely to encounter a person holding a cigarette than one holding a cellphone.

Hungarian women are divinely pretty. More importantly, regardless of age, brand of clothes or time of day (or night), they carry themselves with grace. As a result, Hungarian men are equally well-groomed and (more often than not) chivalrous. Also, I’ve noticed some unusual customs, for example men don’t shake hands with women. On Saturdays, I have seen a lot of kids out and about. Sadly, most of them seem to be accompanied by a single parent.

There is no doubt that Hungarians are amongst the smartest people in the world, and each day at work is a pleasant reminder of this. They often don’t know much about India (understandably) but after the first conversation are quick to google their facts. The questions I get asked most often about India are: Do you have broadband in India (yes we do, about 93% more connections than Hungary. What we don’t have enough of is electricity), why are most Indians vegetarians (negative, we have 1.5 times the number of McDonalds as Hungary, and many people are vegetarians by choice simply because we have access to fresh local produce all year long) and why are there so many rapes (because of a combination of too many men with cheap broadband, lack of education and a moral void created by the glorification of violence & sex in the media).

Finally you can’t deny that Budapest is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, especially by night:

bp by night

Egészségedre!

Civilization: Detected

 gal_earth_moon_c

Captain’s Report, StarDate: -309230

31 measures ago our starship set out in search of the origins of a strange signal. We have been able to trace it back to an inhabited planet in Galaxy M24 of Quadrant 42. The planet has a single natural satellite and is third in the inner orbit of a single-star system of 12 planets in total, although our observations indicate that its inhabitants are unaware of 4 of the outer planets.

The dominant and unchallenged species on this planet are a form of bipedal, bilaterally symmetric beings, notably physically fragile for their harsh environment but capable of imagination , persuasive visualization [NSFW] and as a consequence, dreaming. Although our speculation is that they have been given a favourable evolutionary push at some point in their history, we have not been able to determine the genus responsible for this push, nor the motivation. Our landing party has observed behaviour that is quite unlike self-awareness that we are familiar with in other star systems, where the target organisms almost always unite in the singular purpose of discovering their origins and objectives. Although certain members of this species demonstrate the qualities of curiosity, the species as a whole seems to be ambivalent towards question of their place in the cosmos. The prevailing popular belief (although there are many interesting alternates) is a cyclical view of time that postulates that a massive null explosion as the origin of all creation. This is accompanied by a view biased in favour of liquid water and anthropomorphism regarding life elsewhere.

It is not clear whether the bulk of the knowledge on this planet has been lost, stolen, not yet discovered or simply misinterpreted and miscommunicated over generations. For example we have witnessed ancient megalithic structures (that form part of a disused free energy network) exhibiting symbols intended to communicate ideas, concepts and information. The same concept has been reinvented in the present time on portable personal communication devices, yet the species fails to see the connection between its past and its future. This inability to think combinatorially is also severely impacting their general progress and well-being, notably through severely damaging side effects of unsustainable technological advancements. The best example of this is a personal mechanized transportation apparatus that was invented more than 127 planet-years ago, when the estimated known population was less than 14.29% of present numbers. Yet it remains widely in use, despite having achieved an efficiency of only 30% (not taking into account the environmentally damaging effects of manufacturing, operation and disposal) and an average lifespan of 7 planet-years.

Our experts believe that the subconscious search for missing knowledge (and ultimately, its source) manifests itself in primal urges to be accepted and to establish a routine habitat as a dependable source of comfort. A specially appointed away team is currently in the process of discreetly investigating certain anomalies and encounters.

Members of this species mainly congregate in large groups in unhealthy and inefficient settlements, in which they  go through a strictly regimented process of education directed at conditioning them for aimless employment, coupled with mindless entertainment. A communally obligated schedule serves to keep their minds occupied over the short course of their lives, making them unwilling and incapable of sustained deep thought. Our observations further reveal that individuals are capable of exemplary willpower in overcoming great obstacles, yet readily succumb to a less meaningful life unless compelled by external circumstances.

Most noteworthy projects are inefficiently executed and poorly managed. We have noted a marked rise in intelligent, autonomous life forms to which they are willingly transferring critical responsibilities and decisions. This unmistakable bias towards being led [NSFW] as opposed to leading indicates that the species we have encountered was most likely created to serve as a mass workforce.

Since their limited understanding stipulates time as the ruling dimension (and therefore unalterable), they try to over-compensate for this through excessive spatial expansion. They have not yet discovered interstellar travel (although there are a number of documented theories), but have started systematically scanning their surroundings and have embarking on expeditions within their star system. Interestingly, although they have not yet fully discovered statistical theology or psycohistory, they are exploring the possibility of transcending their present condition. In general, their advancements in science are motivated by materialistic gain more than the pursuit of knowledge.

Territorial and ideological conflicts seem to be disproportionately high on this planet. Virtually all technological advancements have their origins in war and they are rapidly evolving into a warrior race. They appear to be more focused on amassing resources rather than improving the inefficiencies in their processes or seeking alternatives, as has been observed in intelligent lifeforms elsewhere. They have established large-scale production processes which are depleting their resources at an alarming rate, although this does not seem to concern them. Trade is carried out by exchanging of tokens of assurances for goods or services. Profits are made by exploiting scarcity and through other unsustainable instruments.

The majority collectively shares a largely unproven agreement that a higher power is responsible for the course of their lives. While on one hand this serves to maintain discipline, law & order (evidently only to a limited extent), on the other it is the single largest source of all conflict on the planet. Multiple variations exist, all of which preach essentially the same doctrine adapted to local customs and tastes. For example all of them are proponents of an hypothetical underworld which more accurately describes the existing state of the planet itself.

There exists a system in which a hierarchy of elected representatives serves to direct a predetermined percentage of a geographically concentrated population’s assets primarily towards the efficient and systematic execution of conflict. In its current form, this system inadvertently motivates the elected representatives to maximize personal gains over typically a 4 planet-year period. Evidence exists of a previous system that encouraged a ruling dynasty to genuinely protect their interests by virtue of being responsible for its progress and well-being for successive generations. In conjunction, social stratification ensured that limited resources were divided such that the needs of non-arbitrarily selected members of the population were fulfilled.

A last noteworthy institution is that in which two members of the species entering into a lifelong cohabitation arrangement. This is usually followed by a process of reproduction, even though it is evident that the available resources on the planet are incapable of supporting an ever-increasing population. Our hypothesis links this infinite replication to (a) vanity and (b) the perceived failure in leading a meaningful life, hence the desire to make improvements in a future iteration.

Despite advancements in health care and metacognition, and in part due to socially asymmetric growth, disease , food deprivation and other preventable causes of mortality are still widespread on the planet. Their definition of consciousness is limited to changes they can perceive over the course of their limited lifespan. For example they do not recognize the planet itself as a complex, living organism; they do not yet acknowledge collective consciousness; they consider changes that happen at a scale much larger than themselves to be chance events and are unaware of beings coexisting in a higher dimension than their own. Despite that fact that most of their own surroundings remain largely unexplored and not understood , virtually all other species on the planet (and its vicinity) face severe threat of extinction through actions of the dominant species. Clearly they have lost their way and knowledge of their rightful place as the Guardian Species of this planet.

If there are any civilizations out there that are aware of the true origins and purposes of life on this planet, please make yourself known.

UPDATE: Montreal Resources

Some more useful resources for visitors to Montreal:

Karnataka Tourism

Karnataka Tourism maintains a mostly-up-to-date website here. As is the case with other Indian states, greedy and inconsiderate politicians have prevented the outside world from discovering the true beauty of Karnataka. What is known has been highly commercialized, and what is ecologically rare and vital remains neglected.

Montreal Nightlife Resources

Check these out if you’re passing through Montreal: