Topic

Conference panelist MP3s, egg-timers and other conference enhancements

From now on, whenever I moderate a conference panel or otherwise organize a conference, I will make a rule that all speakers must make an MP3 of their talk before the conference and E-mail it. While it woudl be a good idea to then listen and see how good a speaker they are, the primary purpose is to get an idea of the length. The speaker, recording their talk at home, will notice that their 20 minute talk takes 35 minutes, and cut down the number of slides until it fits a little better. If not, and they mail in an 35 minute MP3, you can tell them what will happen at 20 minutes.

Not that I haven’t gone over time myself. Many speakers can use the discipline. And it’s a shame for both speaker and audience when you find yourself having to skip the final parts at random to stay on time, or if you don’t, eliminating time from other speakers, from questions or from hallway break conversations, which are the most important part of almost any conference.

Many conferences have a screen counting down time for a speaker, which is fine. The same idea needs to apply with questions. Along with the microphone, hand each question asker a 30 second hourglass to hold up while they’re asking. Sure, if the question is interesting, let them turn it over. But if it’s boring, say “thanks” and move on. And give a slightly longer hourglass or timer to each panelist answering the question. Again, not to be a den mother, but to have a chance to move on if things are not going anywhere. (Kathryn suggested the actual egg timers.)

Web sites -- stop being clever about some structured data

A lot of the time, on web forms, you will see some sort of structured field, like an IP address, or credit card number, or account number, broken up into a series of field boxes. You see this is in program GUIs as well.

On the surface it makes sense. Never throw away structure information. If you’re parsing a human name, it may be impossible to parse it as well from a plain string compared to a set of boxes for first, last and middle names.

But this does not make sense if the string can always be reliably parsed, as is the case for IP addresses and account numbers and WEP keys and the rest. Using multiple boxes just means users can’t cut and paste. And it’s also hard to type unless you are ready to hit TAB at a point your mind wants to type something else. Some sites use javascript to auto-forward you to the next box when you’ve entered enough in one box, but it’s never perfect and usually doesn’t do backspace well.

Think about it. The multi box idea, expressed to extremes would have every form enter an e-mail address with a username box and a domain name box, with an @ printed between them. This would stop you from entering e-mail addresses without at signs. But fortunately nobody does it. We can always parse an E-mail and we don’t want to subject people to the pains of typing it in a strange way.

Now I have to admit I’ve been tempted sometimes on international phone numbers, because parsing them is hard. The number of digits in the various components, be they area codes or exchanges, varies from region to region and I am not sure anybody has written a perfect parser. But nor do people want to enter phone numbers with tabs. And they want to cut and paste. Remember this when designing your next web form.

Lobby art: a giant real-time globe

Some years ago, Al Gore wanted to spend a lot of money to put up a satellite which would transmit a live view of the whole Earth (well the half it could see) to make people more eco-conscious.

I figured it should be possible to generate the same view with some careful combination of weather satellite images and other satellite images. Yes, sometimes the view in one place might be an hour old while it’s near live in another, but with clever blending you would never know.

So the next thing I want somebody to do with this is build a giant globe to go in some corporate or museum lobby, and project this image of the planet onto it. That’s not so easy, since I want lots of resolution which means many overlapping projectors.

Ideally you would project from inside. Antarctica would probably lose out though if you tilted the planet 23 degrees, or even an amount corresponding to the locations lattitude you could find ways to put the bottom on boring ocean. You could also project from outside, which is a challenge since the screen is not equadistant. I don’t know if a mix would be possible. As noted, one idea would be to show the Earth at is truly is, so the lit part is looking towards the sun as people see it out the windows.

I would want to get close to the globe, but I think the best view would be from a moderate distance, far enough away that we have one pixel per minute of arc or so, the resolution of the human eye. As close as we can get to seeing it in space. (In that case we would want a darker room, not a lobby, and even put a moon on the walls. But a corporate lobby seems like a better way to fund a project like this.)

Airline loading followup

I’ve written several times before about airplane loading so it’s worth pointing to the article from Wired News on the subject today. Academics have been running a lot of simulations, and favour the reverse pyramid, which is a system that boards the rear-windows first, then the rear-middle and wing-windows, then rear-window, wing-middle and front-window and so on. Other airlines like a “last 5 of rear, first 5 of front, next 5 of rear, next 5 of front and so on” system and there are various others.

I still suspect my system of drawing the boarding order numbers on the carpet and asking passengers to stand in the square with their boarding number (except for children) would speed up any of these systems, because right now, no matter what boarding order they try, people violate it for the simple reason that violating it works. Having passengers enforce — excuse me, you’re standing in my square — would work in a way that having gate agents enforce doesn’t. The story has some nice simulations, and even shows why Southwest’s take-any-seat approach works well. It blocks at first as the first passengers grab the front of plane (as they do on all airlines because frequent flyers get these seats and early boarding) but then distributions the stowing-and-unpacking load, which is a big part of the load. The more you can stop stowing-and-unpacking from blocking people in the aisle, the better. Unloading seems pretty good, in that passengers stream off the plane pretty constantly, and you can’t do much better than that, except of course by having multiple doors, which is used remarkably rarely.

It’s time for a new airline using all sorts of new ideas, including the ones I have written about here, to restore a little speed to the flying experience.

Review: Trafficguage live traffic map

Through the SV100 I was given an interesting product called the Trafficgauge to review. It’s a small thick-PDA sized live map of the highways of your area, with indicators as to where there are traffic slowdowns. They cover about a half dozen cities.

What interested me about the product was its user interface. It doesn’t have one. There’s a button on it which does initial start (which you press only once when you get the item) and which can turn on a backlight and one very minor feature if you hold it down that I doubt any of the owners of the box even know about.

It’s always on, receiving traffic data presumably from some broadcast sideband, since it works indoors and in cars all around the bay area. By having no user interface, you can almost think of it as something like a smart map rather than a computer. I’m trying to figure out if it’s too simple or just right. When I first proposed in the early 90s that my cell company, since it knows where I am, should phone me if it sees me driving in to heavy traffic, I’ve wanted this sort of service to be aware of my location, and not bother me with data about traffic problems I am unlikely to care about. Radio traffic reports spend most of their time on stuff you don’t need to know either. As GPS chips drop in price (which they are) this box could know where you are but I am not sure it could do much with it other than show you. The indicators are not a bitmap, it’s a custom made LCD with bars for each section of highway which can be on or blinking.

(It also has icons to tell you what sporting events are taking place that day. This part is not well designed, first because I am not going to know what time the events are — could be day or night game — and the icons are in the corner, rather than in the approximate locations of the stadia (which admittedly is a challege as the stadia are all close together.)

It didn’t come with a dashboard mount, so it is a bit distracting to pick it up and look at, but not tremendously so.

On the other hand, the pricing to me, with a monthly fee, is not attractive. The data bandwidth is not so expensive as to demand this, it is largely a marketing decision. $80 plus $7/month seems a tad high. Mind you the eqivalent cell phone services also will get you coming and going. (Somehow I don’t know if the marketing departments would use “We get you coming and going” as a slogan, though it’s a good one!)

Which brings me to an idea of my own in this space, much simpler and cheaper. Namely a tiny radio (or feature in in-car radios) that constantly listens to the station that does traffic every 10 minutes — there’s one or more in every town. The box would know the little tune they always play with traffic reports, so when you pushed the button on it, it would play the latest traffic report. If it could not find the tune, it would just play from the approximate time the report comes with a button to hold down for fast forward or rewind. The standalone box would just retransmit the signal (usually from AM) onto an FM channel. Such a box could be cheap, and need no service fee. Of course the traffic station may not like it since when it works well, you would not hear their ads. And of course, most of the report is about highways you don’t care about.

For people with a computer or full blown PDA, of course, there are some alternatives. And indeed, the other downside of a dedicated box like this is that over time it really makes more sense to have it all in your PDA, not in independent boxes.

At a full browser, [SigAlert]http://www.sigalert.com/map.asp?Region=Bay+Area gives a much more detailed map, with popups on all the incidents and links to full CHP traffic reports. The CHP website itself gives a text summary of all police reports, it’s the same thing the radio stations use, and it can be fetched quickly on a simple browser.

eBay - let me list unfavourite sellers

Ok, so there's a million things to fix about eBay, and as I noted before my top beef is the now-common practice of immense shipping charges and below-cost prices for products -- making it now impossible to search by price because the listed price is getting less relevant.

Here's one possible fix. Just as you can have a list of favourite sellers, allow me to add a seller to my list of blocked sellers. I would no longer see listings from them. Once I scan a seller's reputation and see that I don't trust them, I don't want to be confused by their listings. Likewise if I want to block the sellers who use the fat shipping, I could do that, so I could unclutter my listings. That might be something to make a bit more temporary.

Ideally let sellers know they are getting on these lists, too. They should know that their practices are costing them bidders.

Amazing new economics of the search bar

There’s lots of buzz now about IE7 and the “search box” at the top of the window. Microsoft says if you download IE7 that box will use the search engine you used in IE6, which is normally MSN search. For anti-trust reasons they are not rushing to just force it to be MSN or live from the start.

Recent comments to me have made me think about just how valuable that box is, and whether in fact it’s as valuable as all of Windows Vista Home, for example. Rumours have circulated that Mozilla foundation got something close to 70 million dollars by making Google the default search in the Firefox search box. For about a 10% share of the browser market.

Microsoft may have views on what default to set, but the real parties that will set the default for a lot of users are the OEMs (like Dell and HP) that ship with Windows Vista, and the big ISPs (Cable, DSL) who love to push a customized browser on their users. Both these groups have done basic customizations like setting the home page and throwing in some bookmarks. But nothing has every been so valuable as the search box.

It was suggested to me that the OEMs might open the default on the search box to bidding. Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and the rest would bid on who could offer the vendor a better deal — either as a percentage of revenues or a flat fee. Indeed, the type of customer (rich, poor, corporate, personal) might dictate the deal.

At some point, if it hasn’t already happened, the value of the search box could exceed the OEM’s cost for Windows Vista Home (street buzz suggests this is around $40 for high volume OEMs.) In other words, at some point, Microsoft would be effectively offering Windows Vista Home to the OEM for free, or even paying the OEM to take Windows if Microsoft search is the default search box. (Or even locked in. While MS dare not lock it in for anti-trust reasons, an OEM could do this.)

All of this depends on the dynamic of the negotiation between Microsoft and the PC vendors. Since I doubt MS wants to be in the position of paying vendors to take Windows — effectively putting them in the search business where they are #3 instead of the OS business — they will use whatever tools they have to fight this.

It doesn’t matter a lot that many users would switch from the default, or download a new browser (even IE7 directly from MS) if they don’t like the choice. The value of the default is powerful enough, unless it truly sucks.

This line of thinking goes further. Our PCs are becoming a conduit for much of our commercial activity. Google makes about $2B/quarter from ads, without forcing much on you at all, which has been part of their genius. In the past, people like NetZero failed to even pay for dial-up ISP service from ads. But there’s still much more to exploit. As Moore’s law drives down the price of the computer, and the effectiveness of Google and other companies at monetizing the web experience moves up, at some point the lines cross and it becomes worthwhile to subsidize, and then give away the entire PC, at least to certan prospects. Decent Linux PCs with no monitor are $160 at Fry’s. Are we that far away from this happening?

"Better hope nothing happens to me" service.

Here’s an interesting problem. In the movies we always see scenes where the good guy is fighting the Evil Conspiracy (EvilCon) and he tells them he’s hidden the incriminating evidence with a friend who will release it to the papers if the good guy disappears under mysterious circumstances. Today EvilCon would just quickly mine your social networking platform to find all your friends and shake them down for the evidence.

So here’s the challenge. Design a system so that if you want to escrow some evidence, you can do it quickly, reliably and not too expensively, at a brief stop at an internet terminal while on the run from EvilCon. Assume EvilCon is extremely powerful, like the NSA. Here are some of the challenges:

  • You need to be able to pay those who do escrow, as this is risky work. At the same time there must be no way to trace the payment.
  • You don’t want the escrow agents to be able to read the data. Instead, you will split the encryption keys among several escrow agents in a way that some subset of them must declare you missing to assemble the key and publish the data.
  • You need some way to vet escrow agents to assure they will do their job faithfully, but at the same time you must assume some of them work for EvilCon if there is a large pool.
  • They must have some way to check if you are still alive. Regularly searching for you in Google or going to your web site regularly might be traced.

Some thoughts below…  read more »

Is there a good electronic calendar workflow?

I’ve been playing with various calendar systems, such as Mozilla calendar, Korganizer, Google Calendar, Chandler and a few others, and I’m finding them wanting. I have not used iCal or Outlook so perhaps they solve all my problems, but I doubt they do.

I see two ways to want to merge in additional calendars, neither of which is supported very well.

The first type of merger is an intmate one, for calendars in which I will attend most or all events. Effectively they are like extensions of my own calendar, in that I should be considered busy for any event in these calendars, unless I explicity say otherwise. One example would be a couple’s calendar, for social events attended as a couple — parties, weddings etc. Family calendars and workgroup calendars could also qualify.

The other class of calendar is a suggested calendar. These calendars are imported but I will be attending relatively few events from them. It’s more I want to browse them. There are many such calendars now available on the calendar sharing services.

In a few of the tools you can copy an event from an imported calendar into your personal calendar, but after you do you now see two of the event. What you really want is a pointer to the imported event. Minor changes in the imported event should flow through into your final personal calendar. Changes in date or changes that cause a conflict should also flow through but be flagged as needing attention.

Tools like Google calendar, which allow you to access your calendar from remote locations (and easily publish public calendars) are good but they have privacy problems. As you may know if you read this blog, information on your own computer is protected by the 4th amendment. Information on somebody else’s computer (like Google’s) is not. As such, you would like to have any export of your personal calendar be encrypted, and accessible only while you are logged on with the password. Distilled, “free/busy” information may remain unencrypted for access even when you’re not online. However, this is a hard engineering problem to get right — in the long run we need the scope of the 4th amendment re-expanded so that “your papers” include not just your records stored at home, but your records stored on external servers.

Have I just not used enough tools? Do some calendars work this way that I haven’t seen?

Capacitive touch sensor on outside of cell phone

Since writing in the previous post about an end to all ringing of cellphones through the use of cheap bluetooth enabled vibrating devices in watches, belts, shoes and other wearables, I’ve been listening to the cacophany of rings in public meetings (even those were people are told to put their phone on vibrate.) One thing I am sure we’ve all experienced is hearing somebody’s ring get louder and louder in a meeting as they fumble to get the phone and open it to press the silence button.

I suggest the phone have a capacitave sensor on the outside so it knows when human skin is touching it. Once you are holding the phone there is no need for it to keep ringing, and certainly not to keep increasing in volume. Then one could open it and send the call to voicemail (or, in my design, push the button that answers and plays a recording to the caller saying you are walking out of a meeting and will be able to talk shortly.)

Of course, many of these fumbles are caused by phones that vibrate first, then start playing ringtone and then increase the volume of the tone. That’s not a bad design though obviously phones are often in a place where they are vibrating and that’s not being noticed. For those fumbling in a bag for their phone there will still be lots of loud noise.

It would be nice if phones had cheap accelerometers in them and only got really loud when they knew they were sitting still. In particular, if a phone has been sitting still for a while, and starts vibrating/ringing, and then it suddenly notices it is picked up thanks to the accelerometer, it could reduce the ringing (and perhaps do more flashing.) This might not work too well in vehicles, unfortunately. In cars we don’t care about loud rings but in trains we do.

End ringtones -- bluetooth "personal vibrator" watch.

No, not the sexual kind of personal vibrator. Today we regularly hear reminders to put phones on vibrate, and they are often ignored. The world is becoming rapidly swamped with loud, deliberately destracting cell phone ringtones. (The ringtones themselves are a business.)

I remember visiting Hong Kong 10 years ago, and a business lunch was a serious cacaphony of pagers in a crowded restaurant. They were going off ever few seconds, and this was acceptable there. I don't know how much worse it has gotten. I was on the train today and since that's a place people actually expect to take calls, ringing was quite regular.

Perhaps it's time to declare that cell phones should no longer ring at all, except in certain special circumstances. That the very idea of a ringer should be viewed as rude and pointless and in fact an invasion of your own privacy. Why should the world know you are getting a call?

To make this happen, I propose bluetooth based personal devices to be worn on the body. The most obvious one would be your watch. However, bluetooth based vibrating devices could be placed in glasses, belts, shoes, shirt collars or wallets. Anything the always-available wear on their body. Shoes and belts have the most potential for long battery life. Yes, you would have to charge your device once a week.

The vibrators would have a temperature transducer to know if they are indeed on the body. If that goes cold, a slowly rising ring could be issued from the device or the phone. The phone could also ring if the vibrating sensor is off or not connected to the phone. Or if the phone detects it is in a private car and plugged into car power, though frankly by this time we should all have cars with bluetooth handsfree anyway.

The phone itself, using temperature and other metrics, can also figure out if it is in a pocket, though this works mostly for men. Women tend to keep phones in purses.

Next step -- your cell phone should warn you when you are yelling. It knows if it is getting a good audio signal from you compared to ambient noise. As you probably know, people tend to talk loudly on cell phones if they are having trouble hearing the other party. Your phone should notice this, and give you some subtle "be quieter" tones. If you are using a headset yourself, the phone display could run a VU meter for constant reminder.

(Unfortunately most phones today shut down the backlight and even the processor in the phone during a call to save power, making this harder.)

Here's to a more peaceful public world.

Nascar Stickers for Political leaders

We all know that racecar drivers wear jumpsuits plastered with the logos of the companies that have sponsored them.

Why not have the same system for members of the legislature? When they vote on bills, they would need to wear a suit with patches from Halliburton, Exxon, AT&T or any other companies that have given them major contributions. Larger contribution, larger patch.

Ok, not going to happen, but perhaps it’s less wild to suggest that as an alternative to having to register to donate money (which many people still feel is a violation of freedom of speech), we have politicians publish a list of all their donors, and the amount, for any given bill whom they feel have a special interest in the bill. They would have to say the top entries while voting, and publish a complete written list.

They would need to be liberal in listing contributors, because if a relationship were revealed later it would look bad, and possibly criminal. Ideally we would have a Caesar’s Wife approach, there they make sure to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.

One son policy

Watching 60 minutes last night on the fact that in China’s new generation, there are 120 boys for every 100 women, due to the one-child-policy and the abortion of girls by those who insist on a son, an obvious answer came to me.

Instead of a one-child policy, have a one-son policy. Ie. after you have your first boy, you must stop. (China actually forces sterilization or insertion of an IUD under surveillance, which I obviously don’t think is a great way to do things.)

A one-son policy, would obviously increase the population pressure, since strice one-child means 1 child for every woman (though in practice it is not perfect, so it’s a bit more than that,) while one-son probably results in about 1.7 children per woman.

But in theory, there would be far less aborting of girls. There might be a cap of 3 children, which would mean that after 2 girls, the parents might consider abortion of a third, but this would apply to a much smaller fraction of pregnancies than it does today. In addition, a number of couples would stop with all girls after 2 or many times even 1, both because they can’t afford more children, or state pressure still pushes them to stop. The policy would actually be that one should still have only one child, but that draconian measures would not be taken on those who have daughters who insist on trying for a son.

The key is simply to present the easiest path. Right now aborting a child based on sex is illegal, it’s illegal for a doctor to tell the parents the sex of a child, and that would probably remain true. They just have to make it so that those daring enough to break the law to identify and then abort a girl would take the slightly easier, if perhaps more bureaucratic, path of having another child.

And of course, as long as you’re not aborting based on sex, you will get an even sexual balance no matter what rules you place on when to stop.

They need to do something. Lots of evidence suggests that a giant surplus of men who will never find women will sharply increase the crime rate and cause other problems. (Though perhaps it will cause revolution which would probably not be all bad.) Already one new nasty crime of desperation has sprung up — kidnapping girls, sometimes just as babies, to be future brides. I had hoped that being so valuable would increase the women’s power, but this may have been a false hope.

A search reveals I am not the only one with this idea, but it has not yet gathered much of a foothold. Both approaches are draconian, of course, and have no place in a free society.

Thinking about what cars really cost

I’ve been writing a bunch about transportation of late, and I got the chance to have lunch with Robin Chase, founder of Zipcar, and talk about the economics.

She proposes that we really need to make the true cost of our transportation visible to solve many of our problems (congestion, pollution, etc.) It’s often been described just how much of a subsidy the U.S. and in particular California gives to the car driver, but to most people it’s not too visible.

She’s particularly interested in changing the rules on parking. We subsidize parking a lot. Most people are aware of the use of roadsides for free or cheap parking on public land. Robin proposes getting rid of the requirements that force building developers to provide adequate parking for their building. Most people think these are a good idea, because otherwise developers would not provide parking, and the cars coming to the building would suck up all available parking in the area and there would quickly not be any.  read more »

Don't be Evite: Put date of party into party title

I get a lot of party invites by Evite, and it’s very frustrating. I’ve missed some events because they refuse to improve their interface.

When I get event invites, I save them to a mail folder. Then I can browse the mail folder later to check dates. If I am not in front of my calendar (which alas is not available everywhere) I can go back and enter items I save.

When I am on the road, sometimes my connectivity is bursty. That means I download mail and read it offline. But this is useless with Evites, as they don’t tell you anything about the event except a usually vague title if you are offline. After that it’s easy to forget you needed to go back and re-read the thing while online. Almost all other invites I get put the party date into the subject line, as it should be.

I’ve complained to Evite several times about this. So have many other people. They say they “are taking it under advisement.” One friend pushed Evite (using the threat of spam complaint, which is not really valid here) to put in a block so she doesn’t get evites. Her friend get told to send her a direct invitation. I’ve concluded that since this change is pretty easy to do, Evite has decided deliberately to be user-unfriendly here, in order to get more people to click on the links to see the ads.

While Google gets a lot of ribbing over the “don’t be evil” mantra, the truth is it started out with a simple principle like this one. Don’t do things deliberately against user interest because it seems they might generate a bit more advertising revenue. Examples of this sort of “evil” include pop-up ads, animated ads and paying for search results, which are all things other sites did. I would have hoped more companies would have learned the lesson of that, and try to emulate the successful strategy of Google. No luck, at least with Evite.

Do don’t be Evite. If you use their product, stuff at least the date, and if necessary the place, into what they consider the short title of the party, even if you must shorted the title. Yes, you will then enter it again, but your guests will thank you.

EFF Debate on Charging for E-mail Dyson v. O'Brien in SF

TONIGHT, April 20th, there will be a debate on the issue of per-message charges for E-mail, sparked by the recent debate over Goodmail and AOL.

The debate will feature former EFF Chair Esther Dyson, who has become a surprising supporter of pay-to-send E-mail, and EFF Activist Danny O’Brien, NTK author and coordinator of EFF’s involvement in the efforts against Goodmail. Esther is also publisher of Release 1.0, host of the PC Forum conference and former chair of ICANN.

Alas, I won’t be able to be there, as I am at a conference out of town, but those who followed the debate in my blog may wish to attend.

EFF will be fundraising, suggested donation $20 but donations are not mandatory.

You can get full details at the BayFF page

Defective bluetooth headsets for the homeless

Earlier, when proposing the term Schizophonic to describe people who wander the streets, waving their arms and apparently talking to themselves, I said the only difference between those folks and crazy homeless folks was the earbud.

I suggest we get manufacturers of phone headsets to donate the defective ones to the homeless. Then, they can wear and earbud and it will be much harder to tell the difference.

End the accursed roving mic at conferences

These days a lot of conferences are being recorded and even live broadcast on the net. So they make a rule that people asking questions must wait for the microphone, causing long pauses that ruin the momentum of a debate or discussion.

I recommend conferences doing this get one of those small parabolic microphones if they can (mount it on the video camera if there is operator controlled video) or give it to an assistant. They can point it at the asker, and then they can talk until a better microphone arrives.

Another option (which might actually be good for coordinating questions) would be to tell question askers to phone a special number on their cell phone. When they are acknowledged to talk, they would press a key, and the sound mixer guy could unmute their channel. They could talk, at low fidelity until the wireless mic arrives. This could also be a way to line up for questions. The moderator could announce a the last few digits in the participant’s phone number (enough to be unique) and allow that phone into the sound system.

People with laptops could also use a voice app (perhaps even through the non-connected AP described in the prior blog post) if they had a microphone on their laptop!

IRC Server and other collaboration tools in a wireless AP

Most people use wireless access points to provide access to the internet, of course, but often there are situations where you can’t get access, or access fast enough to be meaningful. (ie. a dialup connection quickly gets overloaded with all but the lightest activity.)

I suggest that AP firmwares be equipped with local services that can be used even with no internet connection. In particular, collaboration tools such as a simple IRC server, and a web server with tiny wiki or web chat application. Of course, there are limitations on flash size, so it might be you would make a firmware for some APs which rips out the external connection stuff to make room for collaboration.

There are a variety of open source firmwares out there, particularly for the Linksys WRT54 line of APs, where these features could be added. There are a few APs that have USB ports where you can add USB or flash drives so that you have a serious amount of memory and could have lots of collaborative features.

Then, at conferences, these collaboration APs could be put up, whether or not there is a connection. Indeed, some conferences might decide to deliberately not have an outside connection but allow collaboration.

Outsourced valet parking with drive-by-wire cars

There already are some drive-by-wire cars being sold, including a few (in Japan) that can parallel park themselves. And while I fear that anti-terrorist worries may stand in the way of self-driving and automatic cars, one early application, before we can get full self-driving, would be tele-operated cars, the the remote driver in an inexpensive place, like Mexico.

Now I don’t know if the world is ready, safety-wise for a remote chauffeur in a car driving down a public street, where it could hit another car or pedestrian, even if the video was very high-res and the latency quite low. But parking is another story. I think a remote driver could readily park a car in a valet lot kept clear of pedestrians. In fact, because you can drive very slowly to do this, one can even tolerate longer latencies, perhaps all the way to India. The remote operator might actually have a better view for parking, with small low-res cameras mounted right at the bumpers for a view the seated driver can’t have. They can also have automatic assists (already found in some cars) to warn about near approach to other cars.

The win of valet parking is large — I think at least half the space in a typical parking lot is taken up with lanes and inter-car spacing. In addition, a human-free garage can have some floors only 5’ high for the regular cars, or use those jacks around found in some valet garages that stack 2 cars on top of one another. So I’m talking possibly almost 4 times the density. You still need some lanes of course, except for cars you are certain won’t be needed on short notice (such as at airports, train stations etc.)

The wins of remote valet parking include the ability to space cars closely (no need to open the doors to get out) and eventually to have the 5’ high floors. In addition, remote operators can switch from vehicle to vehicle instantly — they don’t have to run to the car to get it. They can switch from garage to garage instantly, meaning their services would be 100% utilized.

Read on…  read more »