Ok, so this story is almost surely just an unconfirmed rumour, but the graphic I designed below still makes a nice ribbon.
Crazy ideas, inventions and essays from Brad Templeton.
Computers, Robocars, Civil Rights, Photography and more.
Submitted by brad on Mon, 2005-12-12 16:49.
Ok, so this story is almost surely just an unconfirmed rumour, but the graphic I designed below still makes a nice ribbon.
Submitted by brad on Sun, 2005-12-11 01:06.
I don't know how many times I've gotten a scrape or cut from hitting a dishwasher door, while it's down, with my leg. It's very annoying how the sides are always sharp. They don't make the seal, that's on the front, so there's no reason these sides couldn't be soft, or even hard rubber that won't cut you. Perhaps some dishwashers I haven't owned do this, but I have yet to get one!
Submitted by brad on Wed, 2005-12-07 14:58.
Millions now use PCs for VoIP and online audio chat, and you soon realize the quality is vastly better if everybody uses a headset.
But there’s a problem on PCs. If you plug in headphones, it usually disables the regular speakers, often in hardware. So if you leave a headset connected, the system can’t play a ring sound when somebody calls you.
So time to rethink the design of the headset jacks, and the headsets themselves. Instead of disabling the main speakers, the presence of a plug in the jack should just be a software signal. Both the jack, and the speakers/speaker jack should be independent software-selectable outputs in the sound driver. Plugging in a headset should just change the default output. VoIP software, however, should be aware of this and know to send call audio to the headset, and ringing sounds to the speakers.
However, it could be even smarter than this. It might change its mind if it knows you are at the computer, or at least change the volume of the ringing on the speakers if you are at the computer. And make it louder if you haven’t touched the computer in a while.
Beyond that, we could make headsets smarter. They should be able to easily know if you have them on, due to tension in the headband or ear-strap. Earbuds could use a small temperature sensor to know if they are on. This could also effect where we direct sounds. Of course, this involves either a new headset jack, or perhaps more cleverly, a small and inaudible data protocol (or even something as simple as a click protocol) over the existing plugs. Many cell phones use a non-standard headset jack to include extra wires for button signals (such as to answer the phone. This should be formalized.
Of course, with bluetooth headsets and USB headsets, you have the potential for all sorts of additional communication with no change to the jack. A bluetooth headset should be able to tell, via temperature and pressure, if it is on the ear or not. It can even tell quite readily if you’re speaking or have spoken recently. Though I doubt most of the world is ready to wear their bluetooth headset all the time, though I do see people doing this more and more.
Submitted by brad on Mon, 2005-12-05 20:52.
I just got an invitation to a new event series that I was told would take place on the First Tuesday of the month. However, I already go to two different dinners that take place on the First Tuesday, and I suspect that was no accident. For social events, people use the weekends, and for other events people prefer the weekdays. They have a psychological desire for the first week of the month.
So I ran a quick set of yahoo queries to find out how many hits there were on the web for "first monday" and similar strings. I figured that would tell when the most events do occur, and help people pick a day that is likely to have the least conflicts.
The results are below: read more »
Submitted by brad on Sun, 2005-12-04 20:46.
I’ve been thinking more about environmental economics since I blogged about retail carbon credits. I was surprised about how cheap (some would say unrealisticly cheap) wholesale credits are — about $2.20 per tonne of CO2. (Update: This price keeps changing. The U.S. price is clearly out of whack down to just 25 cents per tonne in 2009. The European price has declined too, from $20/tonne when I wrote this to $14/tonne in fall 2009.)
Today, many of my friends have bought a car like the Toyota Prius, feeling they are doing their bit to help the environment by burning less gas. The Prius costs around $3,000-$6,000 more than a comparable old-style engine car (in part because high demand keeps the price high), and the savings on gasoline don’t justify it on a financial basis unless you do nothing but drive all day. So the main reason to buy it is to help the environment and to make a statement before your peer group. The Camry Hybrid, which gets 32mpg instead of 23mpg costs about $5,000 more than the regular Camry.)
Problem is, there’s an argument that you’re hurting the environment, counterintuitive as that sounds. And no, it’s not just the unanswered questions about recycling the fancy batteries in the Prius when they fade, where fairly positive results have been returned so far. Read on… read more »
Submitted by brad on Fri, 2005-12-02 15:45.
This is an idea from several years go I’ve never written up fully, but it’s one of my favourites.
We’ve seen lots of pushes for online identity management — Microsoft Passport, Liberty Alliance and more. But what I want is for the online world to help me manage my physical identity. That’s much more valuable.
I propose a service I call “addrescrow” which holds and protects your physical address. It will give that address to any delivery company you specify when they have something to deliver, but has limits on how else it will give away info from you. It can also play a role in billing and online identity.
You would get one or more special ID names you could use in place of your address (and perhaps your name and everything else) when ordering stuff or otherwise giving an address. If my ID was “Brad Ideas” then somebody would be able to send a letter, fedex or UPS to me addressed simply to “Brad Ideas” and it would get to me, wherever I was.
(Read on…) read more »
Submitted by brad on Thu, 2005-12-01 18:45.
I have been quite behind in processing my photo galleries and panoramics.
I have just now put up the gallery of panoramics from the Death Valley Wildflowers trip from March of 2005. Interesting scenery, and when you get close enough lots of fields of flowers. Of course, on most of them the flowers are so tiny that they are resolved well only when the panos are seen printed at full resolution, not when shrunk for a computer screen.
I have also done up a new layout for the panorama pages, and the thumbnails are now 1200 wide intead of 800 wide. I am hoping that most people have a 1280x1024 screen by now, if not a 1600x1200. (Everybody would have 1600 if they were still buying CRTs as CRTs that large are down to $100 it seems. LCD panels at such a res are $450 at least.)
Submitted by brad on Tue, 2005-11-29 12:55.
On the wall now near desks are plates with power and ethernet (and phone until VoIP takes over.) I’ve been wondering if we shouldn’t add another jack — air, and plumb our walls with pipes to move air for cooling electronic devices.
This idea started by reading about a guy who attached a plastic vent hose from the output of his PC fan to a hole he cut in his wall. This directs much of the heat and some of the noise into the wall and up to the attic.
I started wondering, shouldn’t we deliberately plumb our houses to cool our devices? And even more, our office buildings? And can we put the blowers at the other end of the pipes, to move the noise away from our devices? How much would we save on air conditioning?
Read on… read more »
Submitted by brad on Mon, 2005-11-28 23:56.
I’m an earlier adopter with my mythTV box and fast connection. But I’m really keen to see the move to getting TV shows over IP. Cable’s bulk pricing just isn’t doing it for me any more.
I get many shows now via broadcast digital TV, and while I think this is a giant waste of spectrum, while it’s there I will certainly use it. So I’ve started examining just how much I get from my cable. Of course your tastes will vary, but I find I’m starting to care about only 3 or 4 channels. And since I’m paying $45/month plus tax for expanded basic cable from Comcast, that’s a great deal of money per channel. Those channels would be wise to start becoming available over the net, because we early adopters will pay nice prices compared to what the cable companies are paying.
The key is that with the MythTV or other DVR, you stop channel surfing. You pick the programs you like, and it records all of them and you don’t watch random shows. (Except for Tivo-style “suggestions.”)
Even though you limit your TV to just a subset of shows, you quickly are surprised to change the “500 channels and nothing on” problem into “just a few shows and always something good ready to watch.” Surfing and deliberate watching are just that different.
So the shows on cable I’m watching are the Daily Show (and somtimes a few other Comedy Central programs), some SF shows on the Sci-Fi Channel, and Mythbusters on the Discovery Channel. Then, during certain events, I will go to the 24 hour news channels, the only things I ever find myself watching live. (Read on…) Now news, as it turns out, is the one thing that makes sense to be broadcast. It’s the only thing (along with its cousin, sports) we all want to watch the moment it’s produced. For the rest the delayed gratification of TV over IP, or even DVD rental through the mail, is just fine.
And indeed, the SF shows and Mythbusters will all appear on DVD 1-2 years after airing. The Daily Show is making itself available via the non-linux streaming media formats in reduced resolution, so it’s not quite ready for me, and it, as a form of news, needs to get to me right away. (The Daily show is on over the air TV in Canada.)
The TV shows on DVD are much better quality than analog broadcast, and of course inherently commercial free. They’re not HD yet, though. And the pointless delay, even though they get more money from people who buy or even rent DVDs than they do from advertisers at broadcast time. There is a 24 hour news channel made by ABC available over the air here.
The point is, if I could get my Daily Show in good quality and a format I can play on my system, I think I would be ready to drop my cable. The rest of my non-network watching would be on DVDs and the other brave shows willing to deliver to me this way, at a fair price — $1/hour for two adults, commercial free, if I buy in bulk. That would leave me without CNN, though the web is mostly substituting for that now, breaking news even faster than it does.
Of course there are people who watch shows from large numbers of channels who love the big bundling. They will hate this idea. But I expect most DVR users are seeing the number of non-network channels they watch drop, and the economics are changing.
(There are some intermediate alternatives. Dish Network has a $27/month package with the channels I want. Sadly, satellite systems don’t interface nearly as well with digital video recorders as analog cable does. Starchoice has a $20 CDN package but it has few of the classic cable channels, though it does provide The Daily Show, the Colbert Report, a couple of 24 hour news and lots of Canadian shows. About $18 USD after taxes.)
Submitted by brad on Sat, 2005-11-26 22:21.
Washington, DC: The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) issued a stern warning today to Televangelist Pat Robertson. Robertson had recently condemned the citizens of Dover, PA to the wrath of God for not voting in a school board that would teach Intelligent Design in classes.
“We’d like to say to the good Reverend Robertson: if there is a disaster in your area, don’t turn to Science, you just rejected it from your life,” AAAS said on its daily television show broadcast from Washington, the 3.14159 Club.
“And don’t wonder why it hasn’t helped you when problems begin, if they begin. We’re not saying they will, but if they do, just remember, you just pushed science out of your life. And if that’s the case, don’t ask for its help because it might not be there,” they said. “In particular, you won’t have a phone to call the ambulance, and it won’t exist even if you could call it. And even if the doctor lived next door and you could call her, she would only bleed you and put smelly poultices on your forehead to balance your humours. And she would be a guy.”
“Actually, we’re just kidding,” the AAAS later corrected. “Science works whether you believe in it or not. That’s what’s really cool about it,” they said.
“What they said,” indicated Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, in an independent statement. read more »
Submitted by brad on Sat, 2005-11-26 17:10.
At my bank (Wells Fargo) and some others I have checked, the ATM lets you make a deposit with an envelope. You must key in the total amount being deposited, even if you put several cheques in the envelope. This in turn shows up as just one transaction in my statement, and in my download of my transactions to my computer.
That’s not what I want of course. I want to see the different deposits split out individually. The bank certainly splits them out in any event to send each cheque out to the bank that will honour it. Why not have me start the process. It might also assure more accurate addition of the amounts.
Of course, this would take a little more time at the ATM, but a lot less time than what I do now — put each cheque into a different envelope, and deposit them one at a time. Or at least put the cheques of different classes into different envelopes. Of course, if I planned ahead, I could enter them all into the accounting software before I go to the bank, and in that case need not enter the individual tallies. But you don’t always plan like this.
Does any bank’s ATM do this?
Of course even better would be to let me make my deposits at home, with my scanner. No, I’m not kidding. More and more, people are happy to get scans of their cancelled cheques back instead of the physical paper ones. The banks are moving to doing it all inter-bank with scans. So let the customer do it too. Of course, the system would scan the OCR digits with cheque number, account number and routing number and not let the same cheque be deposited twice. A live query could be made after you scan with the payer’s bank. And you would be required to hold on to the cheques you scan, since any one could be challenged, and if challenged you would have to bring the physical one down to the bank. And perhaps you would have to bring them all down eventually for final records.
And eventually of course I could duplicate paypal, by writing you a cheque and sending you a scan of it which you can then cash — in which case we should just go to full electronic money.
Naturally all of this would only be for well trusted regular customers, and the money would probably be on invisible hold in your bank account just like ATM deposits often are until the bank looks at them.
Submitted by brad on Sat, 2005-11-26 17:03.
More and more often when I tour a museum these days, I’ll see either a computer terminal with some interactive exhibit, or a video screen or cinema to play a movie.
All well and good, these media are sometimes the best way to present what the museum wants to present. On the other hand, since there is never enough time on a tourist’s schedule to see all the things you want to see, or even all the exhibits in a good museum, I often find myself saying, “Did I fly 5,000 miles to watch a video or browse a web application?” So I sometimes skip these videos and computers in order to spend times on things unique to the area.
Of course in many cases the videos and applications are unique to the museum, but only artificially, because the museum has chosen to do things that way. They could easily, and should, put these exhibits up on the web.
Depending on the role of the museum they might put them up for free, for the world to browse, or they might put them up for a fee. They would do this if they felt that people would stop coming to the museum because the materials were available free.
Another alternative would be to print an access code on your museum ticket, or issue you an access code ticket on requests. These access codes could be permanent, or bound to the first few IP addresses on which they are used, or work for only a few days after first use, if they need that level of access control. Then I would know that I could watch that movie later, when I have more free time, and devote more time to the physical exhibits that I came for.
Submitted by brad on Tue, 2005-11-22 23:38.
Hard disk drives these days are cheap. Too cheap, in that while we love paying 30 cents/GB, the reliability is getting pretty poor. Doing backups, especially automatic backups is a must, but what about RAID?
One of the problems with RAID, at least RAID-5 is that you need to have 3, and ideally 4 or 5 drives in a machine. That’s a lot of drives, a lot of power, a lot of heat, a lot of noise. And many machines only have two IDE controllers so they can barely do 3 drives and can’t readily do more even if they had the slots and power for them.
So I propose a software RAID-5, done over a LAN with 3 to 5 drives scattered over several machines on the LAN.
Slow as hell, of course, having to read and write your data out over the LAN even at 100mbits. Gigabit would obviously be better. But what is it we have that’s taking up all this disk space — it’s video, music and photos. Things which, if just being played back, don’t need to be accessed very fast. If you’re not editing video or music, in particular, you can handle having it on a very slow device. (Photos are a bigger issue, as they do sometimes need fast access when building thumbnails etc.)
This could even be done among neighbours over 802.11g, with suitable encryption. In theory.
Not that there aren’t some major issues to overcome. The machines must be on most of the time. (A single disk can be taken out of a RAID temporarily, and thus a single machine hosting one disk can be turned off or rebooted, but not for long periods.) If you lose access to two disks (or your LAN) you can’t get access to the data. And it’s going to use a lot of your network capacity, though gigabit networking is starting to get cheap. And the idea gets better… read more »
Submitted by brad on Tue, 2005-11-22 02:35.
(You might want to see Tivo’s actual press release about being able to move programs from a Tivo to an iPod.)
ALVISO, CA — NOV 21, 2005 — TiVo Inc. (NASDAQ: TIVO ), creator of and a leader in television services for digital video recorders, today announced an enhancement to it’s system which actually allows the copying of files from one computer device to another, at least if its one of their partner devices.
The enhancement will include exclusive capabilities such as TiVo auto-sync that will allow subscribers to choose if they want new recordings of their favorite programs easily transferred to their portable devices via their PC. Every morning the devices can be loaded with new programs recorded the night before. This is similar to syncing technology available for decades on most computers, including the linux system Tivo is based on, but now in a revolutionary new feature, Tivo has put it back in.
“Sure, computers have always had the ability to copy and sync files, and we had to take all that stuff out of the Linux OS we built the Tivo on” said Tom Rogers , CEO of TiVo . “By enhancing our TiVo ToGo feature, we’re putting that back in, for our two specific partner devices, making it easy for consumers to enjoy the TV shows they want to watch though only if they have an iPod or PSP â€”whenever and wherever they want, unless it violates our other restrictions.”
TiVo said it will begin testing the feature in the coming weeks with a select group of TiVo Series2â„¢ subscribers who own the Apple Video iPod or PSP devices. TiVo said it plans to make the feature available to its entire standalone TiVo Series2 subscriber base as early as the first quarter of next year.
Last year, TiVo stopped disabling file copying for all its Series2 subscribers and called it the TiVoToGo feature. The TiVoToGo feature reducing the blocking of the normal ability to transfer TV shows from their DVR to a laptop or PC over their home network. From the PC, subscribers can watch the shows, or transfer them to devices compatible with Microsoft Portable Media Center format. Today’s announcement adds support for the Apple iPod and Sony PSP, as well as the ability to specify Season Passâ„¢ recordings to conveniently transfer to the portable device via the PC overnight. File copying is still blocked for all other devices.
Subscribers will need to purchase certain low-cost software to facilitate this revolutionary concept of copying files. To discourage abuse or unlawful use of this feature, TiVo intends to employ “watermark” technologies on programs transferred to a portable device using the TiVo ToGo feature that would disable the normal ability to have privacy over what programs you watch.
Submitted by brad on Mon, 2005-11-21 20:21.
You've all heard the famous "Nokia ringtone" many times (hard to describe in text, it's 10 notes, often satirized on Trigger-Happy-TV) and even the polyphonic version.
I suggest that a symphony orchestra, around warmup time, should suddenly play this song with their full glory and set of instruments. This would be funny on its own, but could then be followed by a very memorable, "please remember to turn off your cell phone now in preparation for the performance." It might actually get people to do it.
Submitted by brad on Mon, 2005-11-21 13:29.
We hate waiting in line at the cashier and stores don’t like paying cashiers so some have self-service cashiers which are still hard to use. So here’s an idea.
Provide shoppers who wish to self-serve a scanning wand, which is battery powered and attached by coiled cable to the shopping cart. In the shopping cart, have a number of shopping bags present and numbered. Paper bags which hold a square shape are better. Also have an open area or special bag.
As you pick up an item you scan it and put it in a bag. It would probably tell you which bag to put it in, though in some cases you could pick and tell it.
However, if the item is “unverifiable” then the scanner would indicate it should be put in the special bag.
An unverifiable item would be one whose weight can’t be reliably measured. That’s because the idea is to verify the main bags at check-out by weighing them. That weight should match the calculated weights for the items put in the bag, plus the weight of the bag of course. If the weight matches, the bag is just loaded back into your cart. If it doesn’t, the items are scanned by the cashier as they normally are today.
Sometimes, even in a bag that matches the weight, a random scan of a few items in the bag would be done. Along with a basic visual check every time. This is to stop people from gaming it, by finding expensive items (notably pills) that happen to in combination weigh close to what some cheap items weigh.
Items of very small weight would go in the unverifiable bag, along with the most expensive items (just so that clerks know that they should never see them in the self-checked bags on visual inspection). Items of large weight would not be put with items of tiny weight in the same bag. Bags would also be balanced by weight, and a smart system would know to put cold items together, and not to mix cleansers and food.
Variable weight items, like meat, usually already have their weight encoded in the barcode as they are priced by weight.
There already are self-checkouts, and they do use a weight check, but it’s one item at a time and they are a pain to use — so much so that I have seen people reject them with just a couple of items. I am guessing scan as you shop will seem to add almost no time. Of course you will need buttons on the scanner to remove items, and even to move them to other bags when it won’t hurt the measuring system.
Check-out will be with a cashier, but the cashier will simply place the bags on a scale, and if it beeps correct, put it back in your cart. They will do a quick visual scan (seeing the list of items and the order they were put in the bag on the screen) and if told to by the system, do a random item check. Sometimes they will even do a full re-scan of everything, but ideally this would be rare. Then they would hand check the specials bin, the way they check everything today. And then take your money. You should be through the cahsier in 1/2 to 1/3rd the time. A small number of cashiers would be open for those who wish to have everything personally rung up by the cashier.
Note as well that with this system you don’t need to bar code the individual products! It’s sufficient to have a bar code on the shelf tag, and to scan that, though of course people will get errors sometimes. The screen on the scanner would possibly show a picture of the item so you are sure you scanned the right shelf tag.
In the produce department, you would pick up vegetables, put them in a bag, and put them on the scale. It would show you the weight and price and also beam that to your scanner. Items priced by count would have to go in the specials bin unless they are all so close in weight that the scale can figure out the count based on the weight. I suspect this would work with most items in fact. (You would need to scan the shelf tag before heading to the counting-scale for these items.)
Of course it’s also possible that regular customers could just get dispensation to just put the bags on the scale and walk out (auto-billed to their credit card) but frankly I am not that in favour of systems (like the discount cards) which generate giant databases of everything you buy.
Submitted by brad on Wed, 2005-11-16 23:45.
I don’t post most EFF news here, since the EFF has a news page and 2 blogs for that, but today I’m doing it twice because congress is voting tomorrow on renewal of the PATRIOT act. There was a lot of effort to reduce the bad stuff in the bill, efforts that seemed to be getting somewhere but were ignored.
Ok, do I have to tell you why this erosion of so many fundamental rights is a bad idea? At first, I thought the PATRIOT only came about because in the weeks after Sept 11, the country was acting in anger and shock. It did things it wouldn’t do with time to be calm and reasoned about it. And the PATRIOT act has resulted in huge waves of new surveillance as we’ve been seing in the past few weeks.
We’ve been saying these things for so long you may be getting tired of it. But every time we strip away rights, make society a little bit more scared — each time we live in fear — I think that’s exactly what terrorists want. Like the name says, their goal is to sew fear and terror in hope of getting their way. Sure, people were angry when this law was first passed, but there is no excuse today. Take action yourself. Donation to organizations like the EFF and others if you don’t have time to take all the action you think you should, but do have the money. It’s as simple as that.
Submitted by brad on Wed, 2005-11-16 02:16.
At the EFF, we’re announcing today a membership drive around our various efforts for blogger’s rights.
In the EFF blogs in my blogroll, you will have read this year about our legal guide for bloggers, and the various free speech cases we’ve done protecting publishing rights online, anonymity and assuring reporter’s privilege for online journalists.
If you have a blog, we encourage you to promote our campaign and add one of our buttons on your blog. The bloggers who bring in the most members get some goodies, but the real reward is in defending freedom of the modern press. Those bloggers who put up the button can get a membership of their own at a discounted rate too. They can see this page for more details on that.
Submitted by brad on Fri, 2005-11-11 02:20.
Today there's more evidence we should be taking more and more supplements, but they often come in giant pills that are uncomfortable to take. At the same time, easy to take chewable vitamin pills are also on the market.
So I propose: Divide up all the vitamins and minerals and supplements wanted in a daily regimen. Make a chewable pill that contains all the ones that can go in a chewable pill (ie. don't taste bad, and will maintain proper cohesion.) Then take the ones that can't go in that chewable, and bundle just them in a hopefully smaller, coated pill to swallow.
Submitted by brad on Thu, 2005-11-10 02:42.
Earlier I posted about my panoramas of Australia. Now I have put up the large gallery of regular spect photos from the trip. We began with a short visit to Melbourne, then drove the Great Ocean Road , ending in Adelaide. From there we flew to Darwin in the top end to visit Kakadu National Park and Litchfield National Park.
Then it was on to Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef, and finally ending in Syndey for the AUUG conference. We took almost 3000 photos — the galleries contain the best 250 or so, along with captions and some stories. It’s freshly up, and may need a bit of proofing and refinement, but feel free to enjoy. Thanks again to my hosts and other great folks from Australia.
Visit the Photos of Australia.
At right: Saltie Crocodile catches a meal at sunrise in the outback.
If you like this blog, do me a favour and start your Amazon shopping from this link, and I'll get a cut.
Recent blog posts