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Smartwatches Aren’t What They Used To Be

Smartwatches Aren’t What They Used To Be

I remember literally twisting my mums arm to get me my first watch when I was about 6 years old. It was a Japanese ‘Asahi’ digital watch that cost KSH 50(less than a dollar – even at those times). Coincidentally, ‘Asahi’ in my mother-tongue translates to ‘I beg you’. But that’s the last watch she ever bought me because the next day after she did, it was not a timepiece anymore but different pieces of plastic and metal that could no longer tell time. Also I didn’t find little people inside that I imagined were responsible for turning the hands of time.

Flash forward over 2 decades later when I set my eyes on the first smartwatch masterpiece. My pupils dilated, my heart skipped a beat et cetera at the sight of the first pictures of the Gear S2.

My idea of a smartwatch has drastically changed ever since I got my hands on the S2 Classic  since I got the S2 Classic on my hands a couple of months ago, but I must say I’m still in love.To be fair though, anyone that knows me knows I love watches.

However, my initial hope that I would be letting go of mobile phones in favor of smartwatches and potentially other wearables remains a dream. Despite the fact that I physically use my phone much less now I’ve come to learn that the watch will  – for the foreseeable future – be just a proxy to the mobile phone. I’ve learnt a few more things as well:

It’s Still A Watch, Aesthetics Matter
The Gear S2 is Samsung’s second generation smartwatch on the Gear S series. It was released in October 2015 and has been touted by many as the best smartwatch currently in the market. It comes in two flavors: there is the Gear S2 sport that has a silicon wristband and the Gear S2 classic that sports a leather one. They both come in 3G and non-3G versions. The former is a little bulkier because of the inbuilt speaker and SIM card.

Apparently, real life is a little different from old school sci-fi films where bulky wrist gadgets look cool. A watch is still a fashion accessory and any tech feature that brings that out differently has to be reconsidered. I think why Gear S2 wins is because it capitalizes on this so successfully: it manages to pack awesome functionality inside a very thoughtful, minimal design.

What Apps?
Samsung Gear S2 runs on Tizen – not Android – boooo! There aren’t as many applications on the Gear store as there are for Android Wear. This is one of the things that initially got to me. I assumed we had all telepathically agreed everything should run on Android from now on. I had my Android Studio fired up ready to start building apps when I realized I would have to use Tizen SDK instead. I actually might have gone for something different if I had know this beforehand. But now, from experience, I’m glad Samsung managed to sneak this little info past me.

I downloaded all the nice Gear apps I came across and also decided out to start out building some of my own. However what I realized over time is that I barely used the apps I installed.

All the games I had downloaded I played two times max just to find out what that would be like. I also got a few news apps that I imagined would come in handy and that I would be using every now and then.

In reality the only time I interact with them is when a notification pops up, which I end prefer to ‘Show on phone’ anyway.

I thought I would use the cute little keypad to reply messages but no. It’s like a little goat. Nice to look at, but you know are never getting one because you can tell reality from wishful thinking.
This is not to say watch apps are useless. Far from it. The Gear S2 comes with awesome and very useful built-in apps. The S-Health app is brilliant. You can use it to track your activity and it nudges you whenever you are inactive for too long. I no longer sit for 12 hours straight writing code. I now go for 30 minute walks everyday at 6pm. At least so that that little gadget won’t tell me I’m lazy.

Notifications, Notifications, Notifications
Calendar apps are awesome for quick glances at your daily schedules synchronized with your phone’s account of course. Weather app is cool, alarm clock etc. The biggest win though is notifications.
No longer shall we be startled by that buzz from our phones during that awkward but important meeting. Or that vibration that won’t quit. The Gear S2 has a very gentle mostly inaudible vibration. And with a quick look at the watch’s screen you can go through the notifications and even send preset replies. Or type if you are old school like that.

 

Action….

The truth is except for a few utility apps, most applications are best served through a counterpart phone app. I’m no longer crazy about building a watch app and instead to focus on phone apps that integrate well with it. So you have for example WhatsApp messages that have a reply button, Twitter follow notifications that you can follow back and such. “You Uber has arrived” notification etc.

Out with the old…
While my idea of what a smartwatch is has changed (I’m still hoping for cool IoT integrations, and maybe a teleportation button) there’s no going back at this point. I tried one of my old watches for a day last week and it felt the same as switching from a science fiction movie to a Hallmark drama.

The fact that I wasn’t getting notifications for my new emails or getting news headlines from the Guardian just bugged me.

Also I could no longer tell how fast my heart was beating or how many steps I had made that day.

The horror!

And I had to take my phone out of my pocket just to change the music? I couldn’t take it anymore. So 2014!

Humanity Through A Window

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Looks into a small road,
View slightly blocked by the steel grids,
Security is important,
Protection from ourselves,
Self created prisons,
Prisons we come home to.
Caged.

Two friends,
In track suits,
Earphones,
Plugged into “Made in China” tech,
Deep into “Made in America” music,
Silently speaking to avatars,
Disconnected

Zoom,
Blindly past each other
Past caricatures and slippery identities
An old black man guided by his walking stick,
An indian girl licking her ice cream
a withering rose,
a moment,
Forgotten.

Covered,
Hidden from the rest,
Just a little bit of face,
Eyes tucked behind sunglasses,
Facades.

Humanity through a window,
Caged,
Disconnected,
Forgotten,
Facades.

The Lonely Universe

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f574ed0584884d7f6a0d873cf6f6b2d0 She floats in a dark sea alone,
Perhaps thriving in an infinite ocean of clones.

Waiting to be seen in full,
Beyond the energy and matter.

To be appreciated and understood,
Even the dark matter.

She’s a poem in Blake’s wit,
But none to be moved by it.

A concerto in Beethoven’s genius,
That lands on no ears.

She’s the original Mona Lisa,
But no eyes to comprehend her.

Surrounded by the curse of eternity and infinity,
The curse of being all there is.

Accompanied only her self-awareness,
Entirely alone and forever unknown.

An Ode To The Seas

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As early as my teenage years I always pictured my adult self living right next to a beach with my golden retriever and Cupid knows who else 😉

But imagining an experience and actually living it are oceans apart, so to speak. There’s nothing so beautifully grand and poetic as the waters.

The waves visiting the shore and making their way back, the currents crashing at the banks, and the waters stretching into the horizon and beyond.

Picturing it go around the earth and covering nearly all of it. Knowing that this is where it all started, where we all came from.

That this is the womb of life as we know it. And then it feels like the ocean itself is alive.

Breathing… singing… feeling…

Marvelling at creation, sustaining it,  being one with it.

I could easily sit on the sand and stare into her forever. For it was the most connected I’ve ever felt to anything.

Reality is enough, when you get to know it

The other week I was wondering why reality seems cooler in movies, novels and imagination? The Matrix movies for example portray a world where human life is confined to a make believe world simulated in computers. Except for Agent Smith and crew(the bad guys) trying to take over it seems like an interesting world. Other movies like Tron and Inception also present worlds that seem more appealing than our own. And it’s not just the movies, alcohol for example twists ones perception of the world and all of a sudden things become more beautiful. Weed makes the world even prettier :) And when the effects of the alteration start to wane you gradually realize the normal boring reality. The reality that is not amazing enough.

Pondering on this issue lately has made me realize that reality is the most awesome thing when you pay attention. Think about it for a minute. We live on a giant rock suspended in “mostly empty” space, held in position by a ball of gas a million times more massive, which it travels around ten times the speed of sound. The massive ball of gas, our sun, is dwarfed by other bodies in a pool of trillions of such, in a universe 40 billion light years wide that is not only expanding but expanding faster with time. And in it are all sorts of stuff; exploding stars, planets like our own, invisible matter that probably make up 3 quarters of the universe, massive bodies with infinite gravity that pull everything in, including light. And all this, could be nothing but a hologram on the surface of a black hole(upcoming blog post), or a black hole.

But forget the way out there for a second. Come back to Earth. Earth is by itself one of the most amazing things that exist. We are yet to find something similar, something with the exact ingredients required for life to come about. Its features are so specific it’s eerie. It’s the distant from the sun, the composition of the atmosphere, the speed of rotation, the mass and a million other things. All so finely tuned so that life could occur, or (for the more practical) so finely tuned that life could occur.

Life. What an amazing phenomena. It’s hard to imagine that all this just happened, spontaneously, out of nothing but the right conditions and good timing. Life includes a myriad of all sorts. The chameleon for example can change its colors to hide in its surrounding. But if you think the chameleon is cool then the mimic octopus will blow your mind. This creature can morph into over 15 sea creatures ranging from crabs to jellyfish. Awesome eh?(even Mitt Romney can’t beat that)

Some forms of life spend most of their time in the air looking down on Earth, some spend it below the surface and others even in water. Life ranges from the super huge dinosaurs that were (fortunately for us) driven to extinction 65 million years ago to the teeny tiny ones that can’t be observed by the naked eye. And yet the super small life is not the smallest stuff we know. They are made of molecules, which in turn are made of atoms and ions. But the rabbit hole goes further down. Welcome to the subatomic world where everything changes including the laws of nature(or our perception of them).

 

Since before Aristotle men have wondered what the smallest bit that makes all stuff is. The early Greek and Indian thinkers proposed the atom as the smallest particle. In fact the word atom is derived from the Greek word atomos which means indivisible. But over time we have come to know that this is far from the truth. Even now we cannot say that we know for sure what the fundamental building block of the universe is. However, our quest has introduced us to some of the weirdest things we’ve come across in the universe and even gotten us closer to knowing the origin of everything. Our subatomic journey has revealed that atoms are actually planetary system like stuff with electrons orbiting heavier central nuclei made of neutrons and protons. And the electrons are no longer your traditional particles that can be fully defined as having certain velocity or even being in a certain location. It is not even a solid block of matter anymore but a fluff of energy whose location and velocity are not specific values but probabilities. In this world we have particles whose certain properties are all possible values until measured. We have pairs of particles that remain connected even when separated by arbitrarily large distances. Electron behaviors show that they can be at different places at the same time and even nowhere at certain times probably slipping in and out of this and other parallel universes.

Parallel universes, it’s mostly theory now but the math looks good. The possibility that out there, there’s more. That everything we see as all there is is just one of infinite completely independent of each other. That all possible decisions you could have made in all the situations you have encountered since you started to exist were made in multiple other universes. That in other universes you don’t exist, in others you coexist with dinosaurs, in others you are a multiple Nobel prize winning physicist who invented a time travel machine. It sounds like science fiction but if our current theory of the universe is correct then this is the reality.

Dreaming cylons and vampires

I was a Cylon vampire among Bill and Eric of True Blood, Boomer, Kara and Ellen of BattleStar Galactia among others. We had a meeting at some point wondering how to dress. I suggested that each model should wear the same kind of clothes so that people don’t easily discover the truth.
Jump!
We are drinking. Kara is kissing Eric to make me jealous. But it is a quick and forced kiss. I decide to kiss Boomer. We do it passionately like something was actually between us. Kara gets jealous and decides to kiss me passionately as well. At this point I realize am dreaming because I remember am not dating Kara but Melissa.
Jump!
We are in a car, drunk and chatty. As the car comes to a junction there’s a motorcycle ahead of us entering a compound. It’s a futuristic looking motorcycle but it looks broken somehow. One of us in the car says that it’s too cold outside to drive without a roof. After the junction we’re driving down the road. One of us points our attention to the hyena running in the opposite direction.
I wake up.
Am at a door, Bill is handing me an empty water container. We are going to fetch water. Then I start telling him that am having a déjà vu. “I have seen this Bill. I’ve seen all of this” He looks at me like he knows something, something bad. “I’ve seen us walk down this path. I remember all this from the dream. we’re going to meet our vampire friend Eric somewhere along the road”, I say. “of course our vampire friend!” he replies mockingly.
After we walk for a while I realize there’s no vampire friend. Then it dawns on me that it’s daytime. “Oh, we can’t be vampires because it’s during the day.” I say. Bill replies “yes kid”. I start getting scared. “what is wrong with me Bill?”. I ask . “you’ve been like this for the last four months”, he says. “Like what?”, I ask. And he replies ” since the accident! False memories.”
Am dumbfounded. At which point we enter a car at the junction from my dream. I look across and there’s a gated compound. Below the gate I can see wheels of a vehicle that look exactly like the motorbike I remember. I look at Bill and his face his pale. Very pale. I look outside and I see Eric.

I wake up.

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Of death and beyond

In under a week two of my greatest heroes succumbed to cancer, a dreadful disease whose toll ironically increases with our advancement in science and technology. Steve Jobs and Wangari Maathai are more than your ordinary people. They both lived their lives to the fullest extent and their efforts had effects on people all over the globe. They are icons that will be remembered for years to come and they set paths of development that will influence generations to come. They were visionaries who struggled day and night to pursue their dreams to change the way we do things. And now we have to live with the reality that they are gone, forever. Just like that. Which got me really thinking about death.

Just over a week ago, my friend Melissa and I talked in length about life and death and life after death. She has a strong belief on reincarnation and despite my philosophical diversion from all that is beyond natural she managed to convince a part of me that there is probably more to death than just decomposition.

I think of myself as an atheist. But definition can become tricky. People have varying definitions of the term and their perceived philosophical implications. In my case, it is the accepting of things that can be shown to be true and rejecting those that aren’t or those that can’t be proved otherwise. Theories must have concrete evidence and should remain valid until conflicting evidence is found. That’s my philosophy. But then again religious people (and the designers at Facebook) expect it be defined as your religion. Problem is, it’s not. I have no religious inclination.

Now as an atheist, whatever that means, am only accommodating to science. Science provides neither information on what happens after death nor a means of measuring it. We as humans have assumed there is more to death than decomposition probably since the time evolution enabled us to make assumptions. The fact that there is no science to back it up however does not mean it is incorrect. But then again why should we hang on to the idea? Is it the notion that we are too complex and too important to be just bundled up matter with a finite lifespan? What if that’s all we are, and the notion is just part of how our brains work, perhaps the only way our brains can work for this kind of advancement to happen? Otherwise what would be the point of living and making the world a better place when life goes for less than 120 years out of the 13,000,000,000 years of the universe, on a teeny tiny rock whose very existence can be completely ignored at no loss by another civilization within the 15 billion light years expanse of the universe? It is possible that the only way a mortal intelligent species can advance and not self-destruct is if it believes it is special, and somewhat immortal.

And that is working very well so far. We don’t know what we are, why we are here, where we are headed and the point of it all but we can celebrate our fallen heroes because they make life worth the hype and they give us the courage to play our part in advancing our kind. And maybe when we finally figure it out we will see the point and be grateful that we came thus far without much to go with.

Dear Future Me

It’s a shame that even though you are wiser, brighter and more experienced with life, the path your life has taken and your current situation depends on the choices I make for you now.

I wish it was the other way round so that I didn’t put you in that awkward situation. That situation where you wish I was less materialistic, more focussed, more appreciative of the things in life that actually matter. I wish I could have your point of view so I could do only that which I needed to do and spend not one second or more on things that I need not in my life.

I know you think I’m too young to get stressed over little things, you probably even find it funny when I go to a bar to drink my stress away. You probably remember that and say to yourself  “Oh, that’s just cute. He thinks he has problems.”

I know you wonder why I didn’t spend more time reading Shakespeare so you could make more rich people jokes at your philanthropy dinners. You wish I could have worked harder now when I have more energy and a younger brain so you could just lie back and wait for the Nobel prizes.  You wish I could invent more, travel around the world, write more poetry, go for picnics, or just spend more being in the moment; noticing stars, trees, shadows, edges, smells, moments…

You wonder why I was instead  caught up in this race towards material gain, and acted in certain ways to fit in the crowd. You probably think I shouldn’t have tried so hard to fit in so as to stand out because that doesn’t make sense anyway.

You wonder why I ate junk food, and lots of sugar and red meat and very little fruit. You think I don’t care about you at all.

I wish had your wisdom so I could see the world through your eyes. And I’m sorry for all the trouble I’ve caused you. But when you think about it, I have to be me, for you to be you. Though I promise I will try harder to make you have less regrets.

My Problem with Democracy

Now before you go judgmental on me thinking I’m pro the North Korea kind of governance where internet is illegal, take a minute to actually hear me out. Don’t get me wrong,  I’m one of the most liberal people you will come across, always in favor of individuals being free to decide what they want to do. Having being raised in my formative years by a totalitarian father I grew up to be very rebellious and a liberty freak. But liberty and democracy though related in some ways are oceans apart.

When the progress of the nation is entrusted on the masses, it becomes a problem considering the masses are usually generally uninformed on matters that relate to economy, science and technology, international relations and others. In under-developed economies, the bulk of the voters is made of uneducated people whose main interest is voting in their tribe. Another big part of the voting crowd is the youth, some are educated and some are not. While the youth might be comfortable relating with others outside their tribal boundaries most of their choices are misguided based largely on peer pressure, and very unintelligent opinions like “I’m voting for him because he’s rich” – a university student friend of mine actually told me this.

A democratic society will obviously have the will of the majority favored against that of the minority. And while it will represent the general will of the people, it could be based on irrational arguments. That’s why in Kansas, the Board of Education in 2005 ruled that evolution should not be taught as a scientific fact but just a theory and that Intelligent Design considered an alternative. While this won’t make any sense to someone well educated in science, it was the will of the people.

Democracy can very easily evolve into a tyranny where the minority is oppressed by the majority. According to John T. Wenders, “Democracy is two coyotes and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch”.  In American States like Texas and Minnesota an atheist cannot hold public office. Even though the laws against religious discrimination for public office were overruled in 1961 by the Supreme Court in Torcaso vs Watkins, some states haven’t removed the law from their state constitutions. Also in most states gay marriage is still illegal. This is a clear example of the majority oppressing the minority because they have the numbers.

The late Steve Jobs once said that “People do not know what they want until you show it to them.” While I don’t like a lot of things about Apple, I agree with Jobs on this to some extent. Like I mentioned earlier people have a tendency to base their arguments on irrational judgement.  No matter how far from the facts they might be, they will still most likely go with what they “feel”. Coming back to the developing societies, where in most cases over 90% of the population is religious, the masses agree with churches on favoring abstinence over promoting protected sex. These societies of course exhibit a higher rate of transmission of STDs than the less-religious, more practical societies. And the US being the most religious country in the developed world, sex education is mostly guided by religion than by facts. That is why it has the highest teen pregnancy rate of the developed world.

Now on to why I did this blog post in the first place. My motherland Kenya is going into its most important presidential election. Among the candidates is Uhuru Kenyatta, son of the first president of Kenya. If Uhuru wins this election he will be the third president from the Kikuyu tribe out of the four presidents Kenya has had since independece. Kenya has 42 tribes with Kikuyu being the largest but that is not my point. As you probably already know Uhuru and his running mate William Ruto are being indicted for crimes against HUMANITY at the f******* ICC! Okay I’m a getting a bit emotional here…relax…relax… Ruto comes from the third largest tribe in Kenya, so if this election was to go tribal they would have a very high chance of winning. Thing is all Kenyan presidential elections have been tribal ever since. Once again the masses decide on what is good for them. And as I mentioned the bulk of the voters will be voting without a clue of how things actually work.

 

Now here is the reality. Kenya enjoys a very good relation with the western countries. A lot of government programmes rely on aid. Some western countries have expressed warnings at electing the ICC suspects but Uhuru keeps telling voters that Kenya can do without foreign aid. This is a blatant lie, and as the former minister of Finance he knows that best. Kenya currently owes over US $ 16 billion. Tourism is Kenya’s second largest source of revenue, and over 60% of the tourists are from western countries. It is very likely that Kenya will withdraw from the Rome Statute if Uhuru wins the election and this will screw up our ties with west. What will happen is the world will witness another Zimbabwe. Of course the average Kenyan living in the rural area will not think in these terms. And so the fate of Kenya lies in their hands.

Alan De Benoist in his book “The Problem of Democracy” argues that democracy reduces an individual to a cog in a machine which they can’t control. And the direction is set by politicians with little genuine accountability.  Plato the philosopher in The Republic of Plato criticized democracy and ranked it only better than tyranny but worse than aristocracy, timocracy and oligarchy. He argued that the masses shouldn’t vote since they were not educated in philosophy and arts. I’m not arguing here that the uneducated and the youth should not vote, rather I think Plato’s ideal aristocratic government led by wise men would be best in Kenya’s current situation, and that democracy in the coming election, is probably it’s worst enemy.

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The Age of Tweets

The current book I’m reading is called The Most Human Human by BrianChristian, where the author talks about what it means to be human from his experience with artificial intelligence. At the beginning of the book he introduces the Loebner Prize, an annual contest that pits humans against computer programs. In the contest the competitors have to prove that they’re human.

That doesn’t sound like a hard task for a human but then think about a human on Twitter. What tells you apart from a robot when you’re reduced to an almost anonymous data point in a sea of millions of others adding to the noise? Twitter is probably the least social social network, where users have very untelling profiles much like the ASL chat room days.

When people ask what Twitter is to me, I mention how I first learnt about Osama Bin Laden’s death on Twitter, a few minutes before President Barack Obama made a speech about it, and before mainstream media picked up the story. Without Twitter, I would have probably learnt about the story a few minutes later on Facebook or less than an hour later on BBC. Maybe if the information was something like an oncoming Tsunami then getting it as early as possible would’ve had practical benefits. However, it wasn’t. I still consider Twitter a great source of news, but most of the time it seems to be nothing more than a plethora of useless information since all the important bits are diluted by the other stuff.

X tweets this, Y retweets, Z replies with an LOL or an analysis with a half-baked philosophical quote or a terrible attempt at a quick comeback condensed to less than 140 characters. Half the time people you are following will be talking about things that don’t interest you. Some of the time they will be having a conversation that you’re not part of. Some of the time they’ll be sharing links of topics that don’t interest you and sometimes sharing content that might be useful to you except there’s so much content on your stream, you can only consume a very small portion of it. Anything you don’t consume is noise. Twitter is not an information superhighway. It’s a miasma of countless loud voices saying different things, each one trying to be heard while paying little or no attention to what other voices have to say.

If there was an experiment to create a social network for AI systems, that social network would look something like Twitter. The chatbots wouldn’t care to know about each other’s personalities at a meaningful level. All they would do is to grab links off the web and post them with a paraphrased version of the title. They would follow event speeches and tweet things like “VP John Doe now talking about web presence.” They would crawl the internet for websites like BrainyQuotes.com and tweet random quotes. And the followers would be able to retweet them and maybe adding internet lingo like OMG!!!, ;)or even ROTFL. And it’s only robots that would be able to consume content at that pace without being confused by the noise.

Twitter is like texting with people you don’t know. It has created people who think they know enough to add to the conversation with authority and tech wannabes who spend the whole day talking. The real techies don’t talk all day, at least not to machine-like humans, but rather to human-like machines and humans.

My opinion is that Twitter fails as a social network. At some point people will realize they’ve learnt nothing on this information superhighway because the information is moving way too fast. But until then I would love it if you tweeted this. :)

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