Monday, August 20, 2012

Augmented Reality Apocalypse basis of new YouTube series H+

I was browsing through my newsfeed on Facebook and stumbled across a reference to a new digital series produced by Warner Brothers and being offered through Youtube instead of the typical cable or satellite services.  It's called H+ and I found the trailer really intriguing:

I'm a fan of apocalyptic fiction and a series where the apocalypse is the result of a technology gone awry is irresistible to me.  The basis for this series is a new technology where augmented reality is delivered via brain implant.  Apparently it works wonderfully well for a time until about 1/3 of the world's population (the early adopters) die leaving the management of the world to mostly people from third world nations.  I'm sure Mitt Romney would find this scenario mortifying!

It will be interesting to see how this plays out not only from an entertainment perspective but from the viewpoint of Warner Brothers who is attempting to tap into the large numbers of people who are "cutting the cable" now and resorting to online streaming as their primary source of media.

The PR says each episode will be only eight minutes long and there will be 48 episodes with two episodes released every week.  I'm a little confused about why the episodes are so short.  Although it's true most online viewers are used to relatively short videos on YouTube, the number of us with smart TVs that can watch YouTube on the big screen is growing rapidly and we would certainly prefer the more traditional episode length.  However, the director, Bryan Singer, hopes web viewers will actually rearrange the episodes and search for clues to solve mysteries almost like a dynamic real-time video game ultimately changing the way we consume video entertainment.

Singer certainly has hit upon an appropriate emerging technology to use as the platform for his new series.  Although augmented reality has been discussed for quite some time (It was a major topic at an Emerging Technologies Conference I attended back in 2006, actual implementation has been a bit slow with Google's "Project Glass"  being probably the most familiar application to date.  Project Glass involves the use of specially equipped glasses that combine information from the internet with GPS location to display data appropriate to a user's location as they move through their environment. Google had initially indicated the technology would be released in 2012 but now they are projecting a consumer grade product will probably not be available for sale until 2014.

However, smartphone users have already found other augmented reality mini-applications to be useful.  One application I recommended to the nature photographers in the Emerald Photographic Society is Peak AR.  It is an application that uses your smartphone's camera and GPS to identify nearby mountain peaks by simply pointing your smartphone's camera in their direction.

Another really useful AR app is named iOnRoad.  This app monitors such things as whether your car is straying outside your lane, advises you of insufficient headway and warns you if a collision is eminent.

Google Goggles will let you scan a painting and provide information about the artist and a description of the work.  Wikitude lets you pull up Wikipedia entries on objects or landmarks simply by focusing your camera on them. The app also finds mobile coupons and discounts for local stores.

So, the technology in Hplus is already here - just not implanted as yet.  As for the digital series plot, I would offer an alternative story line.  What if the new AR modules begin projecting frightening imagery so real looking that people can no longer distinguish real from virtual? But I guess that story line will have to wait for another day!

Update: I watched the first two episodes using the YouTube viewer on my smart Samsung TV.  The first episode was almost 8 minutes but the second was only about 4 minutes including about 1 minute of credits.  I felt like I watched more credits than program!  I see the next 3 episodes are also shorter than 8 minutes.  Come on guys!  There are a lot of us with smart TVs who don't have the "Play All" option like the regular YouTube website has and having to scroll to and start each subsequent episode is a pain - especially when they are not presented in order on the TV YouTube app search function!

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Are banks ripping off consumers with online banking?

Today, I received a notice from Chase that my credit card payment that was due on Sunday had not been received yet.  Since I use online banking from my local credit union to pay my bills, I immediately went online and saw that the payment to Chase was withdrawn from my account electronically on Friday, August 17.  So I called Chase and their customer service agent told me that there is always a delay "getting" an electronic payment and that they didn't "receive" my payment until this morning Monday, August 20, and they had assessed me a $25 late fee.  I told the agent that an electronic transfer is an instant process and the money was withdrawn from my account on Friday and would have been instantly received by Chase on Friday.  If their computer system does not attribute that money to my account until they perform some manual process, it is hardly fair to charge me a $25 late fee since the money was received on Friday and was sitting in Chase's funds merely waiting for someone to allocate it as a payment to someone's specific account on Monday.  I have seen other credit card companies say in their fine print that if a payment is due on the weekend and funds to pay it are electronically "sent" on the weekend but not officially posted until Monday, the funds will be recognized as received on the weekend.  Apparently, Chase does not follow this policy!

I asked if, since it was obvious I authorized the payment in time and have an excellent payment history with Chase, always paying each statement in full by the due date until now, they would refund the late fee.  But the customer service clerk flatly refused.  So I asked to speak to a supervisor then she said she would refund the late fee and asked me if I still needed to talk to a supervisor.  I told her no if she was issuing the refund I didn't need to talk to a supervisor then but that I should not have had to ask to speak to a supervisor.  At that point, without any reply, I just heard the tones of someone dialing a phone then hold music.  After a brief wait, a man came on the phone who I assumed was the supervisor.  I again explained what had happened with the online electronic payment and asked for a refund of the late fee and he agreed.

But, is this the new way banks are trying to slip in more fees on an unsuspecting public?  An electronic transfer cannot occur unless both sender and receiver participate.  The sending institution is including all information necessary to earmark the funds being received as to the payor's identification.  Even if the computers at the receiving end must run some other subroutines to actually apply the information to a customer's account at a later date, the fact that the transmission occurred on a specific day should be the basis for recognizing receipt of the funds.  Before I retired I used to design databases and know that as long as the two institutions participating in an electronic exchange have their database fields mapped properly, the exchange can be handled in a millisecond without human intervention.  So why does the Federal Banking Commission allow banks to get away with slapping customers with a big late fee when the receiving institution has actually had the funds in their possession before the due date???
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