Sunday, September 22, 2013

Pre-release book review: Age of Context: Mobile, Sensors, Data and the Future of Privacy/ Robert Scoble & Shel Israel

It was a privilege to be able to review a pre-release copy of Scoble's and Israel's latest book, Age of Context (AoC).

Age of Context: Mobile, Sensors, Data and the Future of Privacy

This was what I posted at, leaving in an extra part that I edited out from the post:

Reading this book was like reading about technological possibilities in Scifi stories. Except, the technologies are already here and in use. By millions of people like us.

I reviewed a pre-release copy of the book, at a time where my mind was distacted by other stuff. Tackling over 270 pages of text wasn't at the top of my list. I was worried I wouldn't be able to read this carefully and give this a fair review. But I need not have worried.

Scoble and Israel did not just write a book. They told stories. That's what I liked about this one. The opening chapter has a title "Storm's Coming". It sets the tone that this book unabashedly seeks to entertain and inform.

A quote from their opening chapter: "Our perfect storm is composed not of three forces, but five, and they are technological rather than meteorological: mobile devices, social media, big data, sensors and location-based services."

Smart homes and apartments, smart appliances; contextual, wearable systems that know our location, our current activities, our up-to-date preferences. Personal Contextual Assistants (PCAs) that, less than a decade ago, we would call it them the stuff of Scifi and Fantasy magazines.

Google Glass - how it works (but it stopped short of describing why some people feel that it works).

How one NFL football team/ stadium is progressively implementing tech & data to anticipate customer purchase behavior. Save time for customer, faster sales, superior customer experience.

These tech combos work, because we are creatures of habit.

How a company like VinTank harnesses and analyses data from social media conversations to identify high value consumers. Using data for its own target marketing.

Data from not just buying or consuming but merely showing an interest it, like touching/ viewing something.

The automobile as a AoC device.

How some branches of government are utilizing data, computer simulations, visualization technologies/ 3D models to increase the level of engagement with citizens.

A sand grain-sized sensor the works with a skin patch to monitor the patient's condition.

That quote from the opening chapter made me wonder, at first, if I would learn anything new. None of those terms were new to me, since I read a fair bit of Science fact and fiction. Besides, we already have our Apples and Samsungs. We are no strangers to wearing computing devices on us. So what would be new to me?

Quite a bit.

For example, I now see Map apps with greater insights now. Specifically, the motivations behind companies like Google and Apple in developing map services. And what is needed to make such services and apps work.

One chapter discussed what the convergence will mean in terms of business and marketing. It suggests that the real business application would be in information arbitrage; micro-commissions for making real-time, context-specific business referrals to customers.

Like the Scifi stories that I enjoy, Scoble and Israel are able to make me relate to how individuals and society reacts to, or are being affected by technology, consciously or otherwise.

For example, most people will choose to drive the car themselves, even when they know the machine can execute instructions with greater precision and efficiency. Or the discomfort some individuals feel after discovering how third-party services have decided, without their permissions, to share personal information -- even if that sharing appears to be benign.

The book comes across as a result of "pragmatic field research", presenting information and facts not in empirical terms but as stories. There are real names of companies and individuals. Some chapters go deep into the subject, while some chapters profiled an overview of the technologies and companies. I liked that alternating treatment, between depth and breadth.

While the authors do not hide their bias towards the benefits that this convergence offers, they are not blind to potential pitfalls. The final chapter talks about how the companies, covered in the book, deal with personal data they collect. The authors talk about what they call "the sneaky stuff".

Overall, the authors seek to assure readers that 'the storm is coming' but we're not entirely helpless.

"We hope you can use this book as a framework to understand the contextual developments that will take place over the next few years. We hope you take it in context and that it will help you adjust to the changes in your work and your life."

I think this book would enable readers to have a greater awareness of what is happening the next time we receive alerts or recommendations from companies, or from our social networks, or when we use apps. Not that the companies are trying to be insidious (though one would have a greater awareness of how they could be). It is always useful to know how things work. When things break, we might be better prepared for it or at least understand why.

I enjoyed the overview and insights to technologies being developed in the USA, which will inevitably spill over to the rest of the world. A few were obvious to me while a large number were not.

The writing is crisp and the pages flow. The writing style reminded me of magazine articles like Nature, and Popular Mechanics: informative, entertaining, and accessible without dumbing down.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Interview with Singapore Indie band, Pitch Feather (Part 2)

[From Part 1]

Pitch Feather - FB page

[RL] I don't know of any other SG musicians who've done any "how to" videos. Are there more tutorials like this that the band plan to release?

[PF] We might, but no promises. =P

How To Write A Song from Pitch Feather on Vimeo


[RL] Says here you're a freelance recording artist since 2007 So you didn't just "pop out" on the music scene here, obviously. Have you always wanted to be a singer?

[PF] Yes! Since young, I always fantasized about being the lead singer of a band. I think I have found my voice in singing, and I feel that I’m able to express myself fully through music. Singing is like an emotional outlet for me. I’m quite a reserved person by nature, but singing allows me to be anybody I want to be for that moment.


[RL] And you have a bakery. Is that your day job of sorts?

[PF] You can say it’s my day job. I started Yoke Bakery about 4 years ago after I quitted my desk bound graphic design job. I didn't want to waste any of my youth. Being able to plan my own time gave me flexibility to pursue my dreams.


[RL] You're trained as a graphic designer? Will you be doing your album illustrations? Do you have your visual art portfolio where we can take a glimpse?

[PF] Yup, I’ll be designing our album art. In fact, some of the photographs you will see in the album are actually taken from my travels with Chuan, which made it extra meaningful.

I do not have an online design portfolio; I’ve been inactive in the design world for quite a while now. Maybe I should get back to painting or something.


[RL] This FB post was interesting (some one posted a fan art). What's the best thing any fan has said/ written to you? 

[PF] One of our very supportive fan shared on Facebook that “Each song is a treasure. Each song has its own charm and irresistible draw to listen again. Pitch Feather is a band of musical depth and talent that you don't find very often.” That made me cry.


[RL] Can you give your fans a glimpse of what songs the album would have? Please tell me Lonely Ivory Tower and Painter's Symphony will be in!

[PF] It will be a 12 track full length album. So most of the original songs we have soft-released on SoundCloud will be included (of course Lonely Ivory Tower and Painter’s Symphony will be in :)

There will be 2 brand new songs in the album that you have not heard, so do stay tuned!


[RL] As I listened and read the blurb of Dear Jake, I thought, "Let's do a reverse and have Pitch Feather talk about your friends". Tell us about the friends/ family/ strangers -- anyone -- you'd like to share, memorable people whom you've encountered in your musical journey.

[PF] Along our musical journey, we have collaborated with 4 guitarists in the making of this album. They have been really kind to offer their help and artistic input. It was great fun working with all of them. Each of them have a distinct style, so this album is really diverse - a mixture of different styles, and we’re really proud of it.


[RL] You issued a call for guitarists. How did that turn out? (I would have responded but my 'live' guitar skills are pretty sucky)

[PF] The response was really good. We had a few guitarist recommendations and eventually had the opportunity to work with Daniel Sassoon (his wife referred him haha!).


[RL] You mentioned that "the ride was rather bumpy" in producing Pitch Feather's debut album. How bumpy exactly?

[PF] As you might already know, Pitch Feather is mainly driven by Chuan and me. We both have to juggle running our small businesses and producing our debut album. Music is very important to the both of us, and self-producing our album is number 1 on my bucket list.

It is hard work handling almost every aspect of the musical project ourselves, from composing to recording to mixing to designing the album art and website etc. Setbacks along the way are inevitable. We try to make each of our creative output as good as possible, and sometimes that resulted in sleepless nights.

This debut album is very special because we put our hearts, blood, tears and souls into it. Also, I'm super grateful for supportive friends who have helped us along the way.


[RL] How old are the three of you? 

[PF] I’m 26, Chuan and Hongliang are 30.


[RL] Soundbites from the three of you? Well, the 2 guys anyway.

[PF] “Hi Ivan, thanks for doing the interview! Let’s meet up for coffee one day ;)” – Chuan


[RL] What's the most romantic thing Chuan has done for you? :)

[PF] He cooked porridge for me when I fell ill, if you consider that as romantic. Haha! He is a down-to-earth guy and shows his love through his caring ways. And that’s what I like about him. I value sincerity a lot.


[RL] Finally, what other things would you like to add here?

[PF] Thank you so much for this fun interview! It’s always nice to do interviews as I think they are great for self-reflection. Sometimes I can get so caught up with my goals that I forget to stop and enjoy all the things I have accomplished so far.


[RL] Lastly, a fact check: do I credit Pitch Feather as follows?

  • Alberta – Vocals, Keyboards, Melodica
  • Chuan – Basses, Guitars, Backing Vocals
  • Hongliang – Drums, Percussions

[PF] You can address Pitch Feather as just Alberta, Chuan and Hongliang for now. We are trying to shake off the “roles”. Being in a DIY band is pretty much being versatile – we fill in any gaps however and whenever we can. It’s important, almost necessary, to be multi-talented multi-instrumentalists. :)


[Ivan here] Wow, what was I doing at 26 and 30? Definitely not running my own business, let alone do that and self-produce a music album. Pitch Feather is a really talented bunch of folks. I enjoyed doing that little bit of research on the band, and especially enjoyed the smart responses from Alberta.

As I'm tidying up this blog post, the band has been off to Brisbane, Australia, to master their album.

Look forward to buying their album when it's out soon.

Go visit their official band website.

Interview with Singapore Indie band, Pitch Feather (Part 1)

I've been following a Singapore Indie band, Pitch Feather, on SoundCloud and FaceBook soon after they made their presence known in the Internet in late 2012. You might have heard of them too, when their remix of the 2013 NDP song went viral and busted their soundcloud download limit.

A few weeks ago, I got in touch with them (their lead singer, specifically) on Twitter. They were game to do an email interview.

Pitch Feather - Cover
All Rights Reserved. Pitch Feather.

I looked around the Internet to see what I can find about the band. It was soon obvious to me the band had been busy experimenting and planting themselves online (some of the social sharing platforms were new to me).

Here's what I found: MySpace | SoundClick | SoundCloud | FreeMusicArchive | Undergroundmusic | Reverbnation | Twitter | BandCamp | HeartthrobProject | LastFM | Beat100 | | BandSoup | YouTube

Get them a Wikipedia page to complete the list!

These earlier interviews have already covered their origins: | | SEAindie | Rather than cover old ground, I thought to find out more of the personalities behind the band. I had more than 20 questions. Their lead singer, Alberta, was nice enough to answer almost all.

Here's Part 1:

[Rambling Librarian = RL]
[Pitch Feather = PF, answered by Alberta]


[RL] Let me state what I found from your Facebook Page and published interviews:
  • You are a 3-person band: Alberta, Chuan, Hongliang.
  • Pitch Feather was formed in Nov 2011.
  • “Pitch” represents your music while “Feather” symbolises freedom. Pitch Feather is the search of freedom through your musical journey.
  • In the 2000s, before you were Pitch Feather, you were a band that played covers and called yourself "The Eggheads".

Question: why The Eggheads?

[PF] That was ages ago and I can’t exactly recall why we chose that name then. But I do vaguely remember having a requirement of having “The” in the band name because we wanted a name in that vein – we loved bands like The Beatles, The Cardigans, The Eagles, The Smashing Pumpkins. It was cool. As for “Eggheads”, I think maybe we were trying to be comical. Haha!


[RL] Looking at past interviews, relatively little was mentioned about the band's origin, way back to The Eggheads. So how did the three of you meet? And how did you end up forming The Eggheads?

[PF] Chuan and I met about 7 years ago through a casual jam session with mutual friends. One day, the both of us decided to form a cover band for fun, so we pulled in our guitarist friend, Roy Soh (whom we also collaborated with for two of our current original tracks - “Usual Day” and “Lonely Ivory Tower") and Hongliang on drums, who was Chuan’s friend from their teenage school days. For a short period of time, Hongliang’s then and now girlfriend, Ccube, stood in as our keyboardist.


[RL] How the three of you got into the music scene back then, i.e. a band playing covers. Could you do a little reminiscing about the good old days?

[PF] We were not very active in playing gigs. We wouldn't consider ourselves to be deep in the local music scene, although we did perform at random events when opportunities came. They were mostly school organised events (Hongliang was from NTU’s hall band community, so he had quite a lot of lobangs).

I remember we had the chance to perform at The Army Half Marathon. Performing in front of marathon runners was quite refreshing.

The most memorial gig we had as The Eggheads was probably at Home Club -– the legendary Joe Ng invited us over. The main highlight of that gig was a closing Metal Medley we put together, and the crowd loved it. Sweet memories.


[RL] What's the musical background, including mixing and sound engineering, for Pitch Feather? Any formal musical training etc.?

[PF] I’m mainly a self taught singer-songwriter. I have close to zero formal music training. At 15 I bought myself an acoustic guitar and attended a brief beginner’s guitar course that only taught basic chords, instead of music theory and individual notes.

If you talk to me about music theory, I won’t be able to say very much, to be honest. I do think theory comes in very useful when communicating ideas with musicians, and I'm still learning by the day.

Regardless, I don’t think anyone needs to be a theory expert to write good songs. Most of my musical know-how comes from feeling and intuition, probably a result of me intently listening to and studying music albums that I like since young.

Chuan’s the main guy behind the mixing knobs. You can say he’s the most technical one among us. He didn't have much formal training in music too, but his hunger for knowledge is incredible. He reads about music theory and production techniques a lot, and I give him a lot of credit for making the songs come alive. Of course, the production is still a joint effort and we still contribute ideas and comments to the mix.

Pitch Feather - In the Studio
All Rights Reserved. Pitch Feather.


[RL] Chuan wrote about the motivations for your adaptation of the NDP 2013 theme song. I thought it was fantastic publicity for Pitch Feather. You were featured at NewNation, mentioned at blogs like this one, even maxing out your Soundcloud download limit. What do you recall of that little episode? Did you get a sense there was a jump in the number of new fans/ mailing list subscribers?

[PF] We were really excited to see an overwhelming response to our cover. And yeah, we did gain some new fans from it, which was encouraging.


[RL] Did the guys appoint you as the social media manager? :) Does Pitch Feather have a social media strategy of sorts? How has the experience been, managing so many accounts, responding to fans etc.

[PF] No, actually we each have our own roles to play. For example, I manage our Twitter and SoundCloud accounts and Facebook is managed mainly by Chuan. There are no strict boundaries, though. Each one of us is free to participate in any way we like – especially on Facebook where everyone has an account. We try to engage our follower/fans as much as we can.

[NOTE: RL - Pitch Feather is very prolific on the Internet and music social media sites, as far as I can tell. A Google keyword search for "Pitchfeather" showed like a ton of stuff about your band, I went as far as 40 search results listings and stopped there. Wouldn't be surprised if there were more.]


[RL] Your track, Jolly Old St Nick, seem to be your first Creative Commons licensed track (I blogged about it, here) Prior to this, you've had four All Rights Reserved tracks on your SoundCloud page. What's your approach/ thinking behind licensing your music online? Or specifically, would you adopt CC licenses as a way forward? Your thoughts?

[PF] I think CC licenses are great, and we’d try to adopt CC whenever we can. For our originals, right now we still consider them to be “in production”, and wouldn't really want people to make remixes or go spread them around.

In fact, even after the songs are fully mastered and finished with production, we’d have to consider carefully we want people freely download and share, so the songs from the album are probably going to be All Rights Reserved all the way. Regardless, we still like the CC licensing system, and would try to use it whenever we can.


[RL] Says here you're coding your own mailing list. Who's the IT geek/ coder in the band?

[PF] Chuan. He was formally schooled as a computer engineer. He has a Bachelor’s degree with good honours from NUS, and runs a digital technology/marketing firm (Tech Plus Art) with a few of his friends.


[RL] Chuan seems to be a "closet rocker". I just had to point it out, since I'm partial to guitars and guitarists. LOL. What's the gear that Chuan uses?

[PF] Chuan’s a metal head at heart! He brings a lot of metal influences into our music, and that’s also probably why we sometimes sound a bit different from normal “pop-rock”. You can hear a lot of minor keys and some “metal” chord voicings here and there. We’re a little bit like The Cardigans (my favourite band of all-time, by the way) – a pop band with a subtle metal twist. The guitarist is a metal head as well.

By the way, those guitars in the picturebelong to the incredible, awe-inspiring Daniel Sassoon, whom we recently collaborated with for one of our more complicated songs that is yet to be released.


[RL] I get a sense the three of you seem rather private. Even though you're prolific in social media, it's rather "business like", focusing on the music. Comments?

[PF] Yup, you’re right, we’re rather private people. We enjoy being in our own private space, and don’t really crave public attention. Some people like to show off what they ate, what they did or saw on social media, and that’s cool, but that’s not who we are.

We’re also mindful of the fact that irrelevant postings may put people off. For the random things in life, we have our own personal social media accounts.

For Pitch Feather, we want to concentrate on sharing our musical creations and the production process. It’s a musical journey and we want our followers to be on it with us as much as possible.


[Read Part 2, here]