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do re mi faaaaaaaaaaaaa

I don't have Siri. I have her younger and less glamorous sister, Prototype Gretchen, who came with my iPhone 4. I like the little wiki-doodle clinging to the cord of my Apple earbuds that allows me to talk to Gretchen. I like to command her to do tasks like “next (song)” and “call Steven Crabgrinder on mobile.” But there's one particular job that Gretchen can't – or won't – do, because there's no way to tell her how to do it. Interested as I am in the way the human voice wraps around words, I often find myself wanting to scan back several seconds, several times in order to hear a particular inflection or phrasing that just happened. I don't need the whole track over. Just the last few moments. There is no way I have figured out to express this desire to Gretchen. She's seems to be an all or nothing type of gal.

When the magicians at Apple address this (they may have already done so, but I don't know because, like I said, I'm no acquaintance of Siri's), I hope that they choose some method other than crass speech. Calling out fixed durations, like “repeat five seconds,” may be direct and efficient but it's also uninspired. More elegant, and publicly pleasing, would be for the listener to add her/his own voice as instruction to the world. So, for example, if one would like to plunge backwards into the present track twelve seconds: press the dangly-widget and sing out within a particular tonal range. Perhaps the lower the pitch, the faster in reverse you go; the higher the faster forward. Imagine the street scene, as our musical devices encourage a musical world. Because out of that insular feedback loop between human and machine, some song should spring.

Pre-movie Combat

My girlfriend and I enjoyed a rare outing last night to see a first-run movie. We arrived early enough to get good seats and settle in. Fifteen minutes before the concessions ads before the four previews before the movie we’d come to see, the screen and sound system fired up to show us a First Look. For those people smart enough to go to second-run theatres or watch their movies at home, First Look is a huge, flashy series of commercials. It advertises impending cultural and commercial detritus that the film and television industry thinks the present audience might be interested in. We were treated to trailers for 666 Park Avenue and yet another reimagingng of the rapidly tiring Spiderman story, an embarrassingly odd look at a Blue Lagoon remake for television, several car commercials, an insurance spot, and overly excited enticements for other miscellaneous products.

First Look is particularly annoying for two reasons. Sensorily speaking, the volume is downright rude. My girlfriend and I tried valiantly to share the events of our respective days, but First Look’s sound interrupted with the intensity and persistence of a supremely-caffeinated four-year old. Most annoying, however, was the financial reason. Nevermind the fact that we paid a total of $33.00 for two tickets, a water, and the smallest popcorn available. We nevertheless had to be subjected to a very loud barrage of things to consider spending more money on. I thought the primary incentive of paying for things like applications and television series was supposed to be the minimization of advertising. Instead, it felt like we had paid for the privilege of being begged to pay some more.

So here is my idea for a new smartphone app called Boycott. When you’re at the movie theatre and First Look comes on, you turn Boycott on. Maybe if you buy your tickets with your phone, you could even tell Boycott at that point to turn on automatically later. In any event, the application uses listening identification technology similar to Soundhound or Shazam to figure out what First Look is trying to sell you. First Look is loud enough that Boycott shouldn’t have any trouble hearing, even if your phone is tucked away in your pocket. It stores the vendors as a list of items in a database. After the movie, as you stroll though the real world, Boycott uses GPS location services to know where you are and what’s around you, matching your movements against movie and television listings, and the current time. It persistently compares all of that data against the list of First Look offerings that have been stored. Then Boycott sends you urgent notifications when it thinks you are in jeopardy of consuming anything that First Look showed you. This application could alternately be called ‘Take That, Evil First Look, You Purveyor of Conspicuous Consumerism’ or ‘No Thanks I Already Paid’.

If you have the software engineering skills to make this idea a reality, please feel free. The only compensation I ask is a complimentary copy of Boycott, ad free of course.