Submitted by brad on Mon, 2004-07-26 04:27.
I like to wear suspsenders sometimes, but they have become an added burden when you travel or enter certain buildings because they have metal. Not that there are any accessory-vendors reading my blog, but sadly it's time for somebody to sell belts, suspenders and shoes for people who need them without metal.
Submitted by brad on Thu, 2004-07-22 13:19.
Ok, I'll admit this is a crazy idea, not likely to ever see the light of day, but it's worth throwing out as an exercise. It is often said we should keep the speed limit low to encourage good fuel economy.
What if there were no speed limit, but instead a "fuel limit." For example, 2 gallons of gas per hour.
If you are driving a 30mpg Honda Accord, you
could thus go 60 miles an hour, as that would burn 2 gallons in one
hour. If you had a 50mpg Toyata Prius, you could go 100 miles/hour
because that would also burn 2 gallons/hour. ZEV? As fast as you
want, just like Germany.
Bad news in that 20mpg Ford Explorer 4WD. 40 miles/hour maximum speed
A Hummer? Forget it, you'll be below the minimum speed. No highway
driving for you. Enjoy the side roads.
This is more an academic exercise, as the voters would reject it (they
love their big cars) and we actually don't want anybody going 40mph on
I-280. But in fact, if the limit is set to encourage good fuel economy,
this would be the way to do it. A simpler, but also unpopular way
would be to tax gas to $5/gallon. It's fair, because when you crud up
my air by burning your gas, you owe me something, and the least you could
do is reduce my taxes.
Now of course if you really did something like this it would be more complex. Probably not linear, nobody below 50mph. If 50mph is not enough, an 55mph exception for commercial trucks, busses and other non-passenger or many-passenger vehicles. Being a carpool would also alter your speed. Of course it would be a fair bit harder for cops to enforce, but actually not that hard. Cops are trained to identify cars very quickly, and of course would have a quick database. But frankly, you can tell a guzzler when you see one, most of the time.
Submitted by brad on Wed, 2004-07-21 10:18.
Back in June I did a short experiment nomading. A trip that was just
a change of home but not a vacation. My sister was going to Rome
to shoot a war documentary for a couple of weeks, so we flew to
She had the main things I needed. A house, a car, and of course a
DSL connection. But could I get my home environment? I brought
a wireless access point, and the ATA for my Vonage phone account.
The Vonage account has both a Silicon Valley number and a Toronto
number, so it moved quite easily. People could still call me on
the regular numbers, and I could make calls without concern for the
cost. I borrowed a local cell phone since my efforts to get my
own spare phone unlocked and with a local NAM didn't work out.
Also vital for me was a big screen. I'm used to a very nice 1600 x 1200
21" screen and that's not portable. I was able to borrow a 19". My
servers at home kept running and in fact I did a lot of things
on them remotely 2500 miles away. At one point the DSL flaked out
and I had to find a friend to come in and reboot it, but otherwise
that was fine.
Toronto is a town I've lived in, so this is cheating, but I haven't
really lived there since I was young, so it's halfway to a foreign
town in terms of knowing my way to things. At your own base, you
learn a lot about your area. You learn all the traffic patterns, and
you know where all the shops are that have the things you want at
the prices you like. It takes a lot of time to duplicate that.
I've also learned that as I've gotten older I've gotten too dependent
on stuff. I think back to the first time I moved cross country, putting
everything in the back of my hatchback and feeling great. The last time,
I used 20 linear feet of Transport truck.
read more »
Submitted by brad on Mon, 2004-07-19 10:02.
Voice over IP, a field I've been working in, has been generating some recent excitement. And that's appropriate.
However a lot of the talk is about something I consider the wrong direction. I call it PoIP, for PSTN over IP or worse, POTS over IP. (POTS, in turn, stands for Plain old Telephone Service.)
This is largely what you get from Vonage and AT&T CallVantage and similar companies. An effort to create a product very similar to the old style phone or PBX, just at a lower price. Yes, there are some differences -- a few cute features formely found only in higher end PBXs and so-called Intelligent switches, and of course the geography-independent nature of using your internet connection as the hookup.
But must of these new features are evolutionary. They aren't the "disruptive" change that we're really looking for. Indeed, in the early days, I used to joke that VoIP was "Not quite as good as the old telephone, but at least it's harder to configure."
It may be that reputation that scared people into making PoIP. They feel, perhaps correctly, that first they must convince the public that VoIP isn't scary, that it's very similar to the phone. And indeed, some customers need that convincing. But that train of thought never leads to a disruptive change, and Vonage will never survive being AT&T for a few bucks less.
Skype, for better or worse, was ready to give up the old world, and insist you use a PC to make calls. I've had investors insist there is no way people would pick up a mouse to make calls, but they are doing so.
A disruptive product is worse than the status quo in others, and does something new the old guard weren't expecting. VoIP users should embrace the internet, not just to jam it into the phone.
Submitted by brad on Wed, 2004-07-14 03:54.
Online discussion and collaboration tools are old now, dating back almost 40 years to PLATO, 30 years for mailing lists, 25 years for BBSs and USENET. Yet somehow I don’t feel we’ve got it right yet, and in fact may be going in some wrong directions.
I beleive there are two central dichotomies that make the problem hard to solve.
The first is the distinction between “serial” material which is meant to be read as a stream (though perhaps referenced later) and “browsable” information meant to be read in a somewhat more random order.
E-mail, USENET, RSS feeds and message boards are largely serial. Blogs and web boards are attempts to be serial in a browsed medium, which the web largely is. Wikis are on the browseable side of the spectrum, though of course they contain serial aspects, like the ability to e-mail lists of recently changed pages. (Twitter is a somewhat interesting medium as it is serial but contains so much you simply sample the stream
rather than read all of it.)
The second dichotomy is between reader-friendly and writer-friendly. Writer-friendly systems put as few burdens on the writer as possible in order to encourage participation. Reader friendly systems try to make it as easy as possible for a reader to get what she’s looking for out of the system. One of the central quests has been for automated software tools that let the writer not do much work but still let the reader get what they want. A search engine is an example of such a technology.
A professional publication will be highly reader-friendly. If you have a million readers, it’s worth every possible effort on the writer or publisher’s part to make it better for them, especially if they are your source of income. Writers will take the time to write well, organize, categorize and put in links to releated resources. They will create sidebars to deal with other topics or provide introductions to readers not as familiar with the subject matter.
Wikis are writer friendly. Anybody can just go in and edit any page any way they want. No other bounds (at least in the software) exist to encourage people to put material in the Wiki.
While I know the value of browsing, I think serial presentations are more reader-friendly, or at least can be. I don’t have to go looking for what’s new for me if the serial stream is decently managed. But this is not a universal rule.
What is missing, however, is the right marriage of the serial and the browsable. For discussions, and for breaking news, we want a serial presentation. We don’t want to go to a newspaper web site and figure out for ourselves what stories we already saw, or what parts of the stories we already know. We would like the system to know what’s new for us. At the same time, serial streams (including blogs) leave behind worthwhile trails that are meant to be browsed or searched later. But we don’t tend to fill our serial streams with things to help in that department, like links. Nor do we even have mechanisms in mailing lists or USENET to easily update items from the past that will be read by newcomers (either serially or through browsing.)
The marriage, when we find it, will allow people to have productive discussions online, like in a mailing list, but leave behind a useful information resource, with the tangents removed to tagged to be easily avoided, the useful and popular information highlighted, the past cleaned up and edited (though with the truth available.) Perhaps a marriage of Wiki techniques and newsgroups.
It should be able to balance reader and writer friendliness depending on how many there are of each. For example, a system with 10,000 readers and one writer should push the writer to do more, since if 2 minutes work by the writer can save a second for 10,000 people it’s a good trade-off. However, in small systems with few readers you want to encourage participation and not put demands on writers. Ideally you have a quest for fancy tools to get the most of both where you can have it.
I know people want this marriage. People are excited about products like GMail which let them get a better grasp of all the E-mail conversations they participate in. But there is so much more that has to be done. I don’t have the answer right now, but I want to encourage debate and innovation on the topic.
Update: I have added thoughts about how some media are “sampled” (you only dip into them from time to time and see what’s current) and some are subscribed (you read it all, or at least scan it all most of the time) in thinking about Twitter.
Submitted by brad on Fri, 2004-07-09 02:56.
In the 80s, as VCRs were becoming popular, I saw an interesting product that acted as a commercial eliminator for those who wanted to tape classic, black and white movies that were often on late at night.
The product simply detected when the signal went colour, and would trigger the pause button on your VCR. (In early VCRs this was not even infrared.) The commercials were colour, the movie was B&W and so you got a commercial free movie recorded.
In watching HDTV movies recently, I had the thought you could now reverse this process. The movies are in hi-def, widescreen, but most of the commercials are in regular def, 4:3 ratio. So a commercial eliminator could pull the trick of deleting the old (rather than the new) on these shows. Of course this trick won't last forever. As HDTV grows more of the commercials will move that way. It's even easier to justify if it sells product.
Low blogging the last while, been on the road. In Toronto now for Jerry's Retreat.
Submitted by brad on Fri, 2004-07-02 07:03.
It would be nice to see (perhaps it already exists) an ethernet card for a PC that also looked, in hardware, like all the other standard PC hardware. In particular like a basic standard SVGA video card, like a soundblaster, like a keyboard and like a mouse.
But in fact, all writes to these devices would be sent out over the ethernet. Writes to the video memory, sounds send to the sound card and so on.
This would be very handy with the server crowd, no need for consoles, kvm switches or having to physically go to a server to do work on it. There are tools to provide virtual services after machines have booted (and of course unix/linux machines have always been completely remote controllable after boot, and even during boot via serial console.) And indeed, with this card you would throw in smarter virtual drivers for devices after the operating system had booted that made more efficient use of the ethernet, or supported different resolutions.
Include jumpers to read all motherboard LEDs while at it. If you wanted to get really cute, put a tiny microphone on the card fed into the sound-card portion, so you can listen to noises the drives make etc.
The card could of course do wake-on-lan to the motherboard and have the ability to power off the machine as well. A physical visit to a machine would never be needed except to physically change hardware.
Eventually this would all go onto a standard I/O chip and, like all these peripherals are today, come standard with the ethernet that's on every server motherboard already. Virtual USB systems already exist if you want that, and might be a simpler solution for keyboard, mouse and sound in any event since new motherboards and their BIOSes are now used to seing those things on USB.
Submitted by brad on Wed, 2004-06-30 09:23.
People who speculate about the growth of cultures have wondered if our moon (which is unusually large compared to the host planet, at least based on the limited set of planets we can see) played a big role in our societies. Did it make us more aware of the sky than people who evolved on a moonless world would be, or a world with a small moon? Did the tides have an unusual affect on us beyond ordinary solar tides?
One thought did occur to me recently. The moon's rotation period is tidally locked, meaning the moon rotates at the same period with which it revolves around the Earth, and so it always presents the same face to the Earth. From our viewpoint, it does not appear to rotate at all.
Because of that, and because it's big enough to see with the naked eye, the features of the moon were fixed and visible to all generations of humans. We created the concept of "the man in the moon."
If the moon did have a visible rotation (ie. it was not tidally locked) it would be obvious to us. It would be obvious, in particular, that it is a sphere, and not a disk pinned to the sky as it appears to be.
So ancient astronomers would have seen the moon was a sphere and probably would have figured out much earlier that the sun, the other planets, and most importantly of all, the Earth itself, were a sphere. Perhaps more importantly, it would even be obvious to the common person. And what might that have done for the evolution of our technology and society?
Submitted by brad on Mon, 2004-06-28 13:36.
In Canada, polls leading up to the election all the way to yesterday showed the Liberal and Conservative parties neck and neck. Yesterday's poll had them effectively tied in popular vote with anybody's guess as to who might form a government, presumably a minority one.
Now real results are in, and while not complete we see this:
| Overall Election Results
|LIB ||127 ||11 ||138 ||37.43%
|CON ||85 ||8 ||93 ||29.36%
|BQ ||52 ||2 ||54 ||12.76%
|NDP ||17 ||5 ||22 ||15.15%
|NA ||1 ||0 ||1 ||.04%
|OTH ||0 ||0 ||0 ||5.26%
A remarkable difference and clear victory for the Liberals. As noted, we have seen this before. Surveys measure only "what people who bother to talk to pollsters want to tell pollsters." In spite of their claims of small margins of error, they can be very, very wrong.
It's important to not just learn when not to trust polls, but also to ask why, even when we see this sort of error time and time again, we continue to trust polls. We grasp at any information, even what we know to be unreliable.
It causes huge events. I remember in the 80s the provincial Liberal party seeing polls that showed a comfortable majority, so they -- based on the polls -- called an election. And were soundly trounced. (In part, in Heisenberg style, because people were annoyed they called an election for no other reason than their good poll numbers.)
So the idea to promote here: We often hear complaints from the "ordinary" folks that they don't like having to take all that Math in school because it will not be relevant to their life.
One course that everybody should take, and which is relevant, is a course on how to understand statistics and the misuse of statistics. Even if they came out of it not know a chi-square from a hole in the ground, they might be able to tell when stats can't be trusted. One hopes.
Submitted by brad on Fri, 2004-06-25 11:20.
A couple of years ago, a series of digital picture frame products appeared. Some took memory cards. One plugged into a modem so grandma could get new grandchild pictures each day without doing things. But they were all super low resolution and high priced.
Panels have come down a lot recently. I see wall mount 1280x1024 panels getting to about $350, wall mountable (though you need power.) That's a resolution I could handle.
How about throwing picture frame ability into these? Either the memory card slot as before, or perhaps 802.11? In the latter case, you could even tolerate not bothering with jpg decompression or much else on the panel, let the PC do it all over the network.
For a few extra bucks, however, a wireless, wall-mount, high-res flat panel display is something I can see people buying many of. Give them a full X server or mini-media server so you can stream mpeg video at them, and I could see a raft of applications as home display and control devices.
They could show you TV, your doorway security cam when the door rings, your caller-ID when the phone rings, weather, traffic, you name it, and be a digital picture frame when nothing else is going on.
Throw in an infrared receiver and they could work with remote controls.
Of course you could also make a mini box that has all this and a VGA output. They do make such boxes with TV output to be media servers connected to your TV and stereo. Has anybody seen one designed to mount flat on the wall behind a flat panel display?
All pointers suggest this product could be under $400 soon, then under $200 at which point you would see a lot of people buying one for each room. Right now 1280x1024 seems the hi-res sweet spot, though in fact 1280 x 854 or of course 1536x1024 to get a photographic aspect ratio woudl be even nicer.
Maybe not for grandma's baby pictures yet, but who knows? If grandma has DSL, you could buy her one of these, and a cheap wireless access point even though she doesn't have any other wireless equipment, and with proper security, let the pictures and display be controlled by you or a photo managing service.
Submitted by brad on Thu, 2004-06-24 16:50.
There's lots of privately owned parking out there, even around airports, but nor market for it. What about a web market?
Imagine, if you owned a parking space, you could file it in a database. People going somewhere hard or expensive to park would go to the web before the trip, enter the address, and get offered a spot near their target with a rate. This could also include commercial lots with spare space. If not at the web, you could call from your registered cell phone for a small extra fee while driving to your destination.
I see this particularly useful near the airport. You would be given a private spot a short cab ride from the airport. On the web, you would get printed directions to the spot from you and from the airport, and you would get a list of cab companies with pre-negotiated rates. You would phone one on your cell phone, or in a fancier system, the network would arrange it for you. Coming back you would just find any available cab -- faster and more direct than the off-airport parking lot shuttles.
When you got to your car you would call a number from your registered cell phone, and it would see the caller-ID and check you out of the spot, freeing it for somebody else and billing you.
The rate you pay the private lot owner might be lower the higher the cab fare is to keep the cost roughly flat. For many lot owners near airports (businesses, hotels) it's found money. They would get web access to the licence plates of the cars that should be in the spots, and could spot check to assure compliance.
Yes, it takes time to go to a web site before you leave your house, but you waste much more time hunting for parking in the tough areas.
Submitted by brad on Mon, 2004-06-21 16:16.
One of my interests is "new democracy" -- concepts of governance that could only exist due to the revelution in the technologies of organization that computers have brought. (I feel that one way to view the purpose of government is as a technology of organization.)
Imagine a legislative house of 100 members composed as follows. Each voter would be able to declare their support (vote) for one delegate. After the voting, the top 100 delegates become the members of the house. The #1 delegate would get no more than just under 2% of the vote, down around #100 we probably see somebody getting perhaps half a percent.
This house represents minority opinion. Almost any serious minority group can put together enough support to get a delegate, as it only takes between .5% and .9% of the vote. (1% gaurantees a delegate but in practice you would not need that much.) Parties with large support would just get more delegates. So there would always be some libertarians, some greens, along with the more mainstream groups.
The trick is that you could change your vote frequently. If your delegate did things you don't like, you could switch to another. This would not cause the upheaval that frequent elections cause today, because all the change would be at the lower end. Candidate #101 would one day replace Candidate #100. To prevent chaos at the bottom, candidates would get some minimum term before replacement, unless they dropped really low.
Without secret ballot this would be easy to do. Each person would have their named delegate on file, and could go and change it when they wish. There would never be (or rarely be) general elections.
With secret ballot it's harder... read more »
Submitted by brad on Fri, 2004-06-18 14:47.
We all love our Tivo or other PVRs (though my mother just got the Scientific Atlanta 8000HD which does HDTV but otherwise has a terrible UI. It's hard to imagine this was designed after people saw the Tivo or Replay.)
After you use your PVR, you get a large library. Deliberately recorded programs, or in the case of the Tivo "suggestion" mode, programs recorded at random that are similar to shows you have asked to record.
You can browse them like a directory. And once you use the PVR a lot you stop surfing the live TV by and large. So I suggest adding a "surf" mode for the recorded shows. Ie. pretend they are a set of channels that are on now. You would start surfing by seeing the first show live (but with the overlay showing what it is.) You could hit up or down and move to other recorded shows. For surfing purposes, the shows would pause and recontinue where you left off during this surfing session. After a while this would be forgotten for the next surfing session if you liked.
You can already browse through the descriptions, but this mode would give a more familiar feel to looking at the shows. This would be better for the suggestions than the requested shows. For example, I have often got many episodes of a show I watch, in order, and I don't want to browse them and spoil what's ahead. I don't even want to read the descriptions in many cases.
Oh yea, speaking of which, who isn't annoyed at the long delay for channel changes on PVRs, satellite boxes and digital cable boxes. Many of these have dual tuners, so why not do this: If the other tuner is available, start pre-buffering the "next" expected channel in a channel surf, so you can show it instantly. There is a downside to this, which is sometimes you will guess wrong or not have the other tuner and thus have to do the regular slow channel change, and I know that studies show that inconsistent response time is more confusing to users than consistently bad response time. But I think they could come to understand it. Of course, as tuners become cheaper, just have enough that you can always do it.
Submitted by brad on Thu, 2004-06-17 03:55.
Emory University scientists, taking one species of vole that is one of the extremely rare animals to be actually monogamous, found a gene to boost the effect of Vasopressin, one of the love hormones. Inserting this gene into other voles made them more socially monogamous.
I had heard of this before, and there has been science fiction about couples taking love drugs, but this story made me wonder about how people might try to alter the concept of marriage.
Imagine there was a gene therapy which would improve the chances that you would remain in love with the one you currently love. Might couples want to take it when getting married? (Or, more practically, after a few years of test marriage and before children are begun.)
And more to the point, if this became popular, might there arise pressure to do so, even for those who don't particuarly want it?
One can imagine injecting the virus to deliver the gene at the wedding, truly sealing the bonds of love. (It's unlikely that the romantic idea of transmitting the virus in the first marital kiss would be a good idea.)
But what if it starts coming down to "Honey, why won't you take the gene therapy? Don't you love me enough? I'll take it for you!"
How will we answer that?
Submitted by brad on Tue, 2004-06-15 17:34.
A dot-zom is a dot-com that's walking dead, still coasting on investor money, but no future in sight. The stage before a dot-gone.
Submitted by brad on Mon, 2004-06-14 09:00.
Here’s my most disturbing idea yet. There are drugs which erase memory (or rather block the formation of memories while they are used.) It seems disturbingly probable to me that these might be being used for torture. Espcially considering the light of new memos giving the US the green light for torture.
If you don’t know of this class of drugs, you may have heard of “Roofies” the “date rape” drug which have been used to both make a victim pliable and also to make her forget the rape. There are stronger drugs, such as Versed, which are used in surgery.
The surgical use is quite disturbing. They want to perform a procedure on you while you will be somewhat conscious, but it is painful and upsetting and will leave mental scars — so they put you through the pain but block you from remembering it.
However, it must be obvious to those wishing to do torture that this could be applied here too. Apply the drug, then apply torture which leaves few permanent marks. The victim would awaken unaware they had been tortured or what they had confessed to. They could not testify later about their torture, they would not even know to.
It’s hard not to think that this would be a more “humane” form of torture, in the same way the surgical use of the drugs is humane. After all, you just want the information, why leave the victim with psychic scars, as there always are from torture. This is frightening because it might make the public much more accepting of torture. And on top of that, how will we ever find out if torture is going on? Only from the torturers themselves.
This is just the start of a trend. Tools like “brain fingerprinting” already exist which cause no pain but examine your brain to find out if you remember something you are being shown, or if it’s the first time you are seeing it. People have already suggested this is so benign as to be suitable for airport screening!
I predict we’ll see newer and “better” torture and interrogation techniques in the near future. Better brain scans. Polygraphs that actually work. More powerful drugs that affect not just memory but compliance. Perhaps eventually nanomachines that reach in and target brain centers to create compliance.
Some of these may already exist — though I think not too many or our intelligence communities would be doing a better job on terrorism than they are.
But they will exist. How will we as a society cope with them? We already seem willing to forget about the prohibitions on torture in the constitution and international law. We’ll pretend the prohibitions don’t even exist for these new forms.
The only way to avoid them will be to work soon for strong laws and eventually an explicit constitutional amendment protecting the right of privacy in our thoughts. And that will be a long time coming.
Update: More stories of Versed and other memory drugs in my new memory tag.
Submitted by brad on Fri, 2004-06-11 08:03.
Declan recently wrote an article about abolishing the FCC and selling off spectrum to private owners. It's an old idea, in fact too old, it was out of date even when the book he cites was published.
For starters, there is UWB -- ultrawideband technology that transmits on all frequences at once because it uses what would be viewed as noise pulses, rather than a band at all. The developers of the technology, when they first started telling the FCC about it, remarked that until they were told about it, the FCC would not have been able to detect that it was even _there_, let alone regulate it. They had to tell them it existed.
Owned spectrum would pretty much forbid UWB -- and any other future innovations that were similar.
Other new technologies eliminate interference in other ways, but having dynamic transmitter-receiver relationships that limit power and take advantage of the fact that radio waves don't actually interfere when they cross one another except at the receiving antenna unable to deal with the problem.
Selling off spectrum as a permanent property right forever carves the concept of "spectrum" into law, and that's simply a silly thing to do, knowing what we do now, and knowing what we might be capable of in the future.
Instead, how about a much simpler rule.
You should not broadcast in a way that interferes with other broadcasters.
Though shalt not hog bandwidth.
With the following interesting interpretation. It doesn't matter who was there first. Rather, it is the duty of any transmitter to regularly take steps to avoid interfering with both those already doing radio in the area and those who might come along in the future. read more »
Submitted by brad on Thu, 2004-06-10 14:43.
I took a trip to Toronto in part to see the very rare transit of Venus over the face of the Sun. I was lucky enough to get some great photos.
See my gallery of Venus Transit 2004 photos with notes.
Submitted by brad on Wed, 2004-06-09 15:39.
Seeing the essay by James Lovelock, environmentalist pioneer and originator of the "Gaia hypothesis" that we must move to nuclear power to avoid greenhouse gas emissions, I thought the sentiment might be summed up as follows:
"Glow" is the new green.
Submitted by brad on Mon, 2004-06-07 09:57.
Everybody loves their webcams (though the surveillance aspects of some are to be worried about.)
What about a way to make them cheap and easy to put in cool places. Combine a webcam with a solar panel, 802.11 link and small bettery. The webcam charges the battery off the panel, and when there is enough charge to take a picture, it takes one and spits it out the wireless link. You don't need much of a battery or much of a solar panel, because the amount of power simply controls how often it can take a picture.
When the sunlight is bright, it's taking pictures frequently. When it's cloudy, they are less frequent. When it's dark, it's not taking them at all. (Though a unit with larger battery could do even this.)
These devices could easily be stuck on mountaintops, antenna towers, roofs etc. The only issue -- keeping the lens clean. Possibly a wiper (fired when blur is detected or manually) or occasional service. A little protection from the rain and wind for the lens of course.
And now that megapixel sensors are so cheap, why not produce a 1280x720 HDTV image, which people can stick on their new plasma screens on the walls, sampling images of the world?