brad's blog

Exercise bike that makes you exercise

Everybody knows one of the big problems with exercise machines is they end up as clothesracks. I've seen this literally happen. A lot of people put their machine in front of the TV to make them use it, for a while we even had no couch.

Here's an invention to create an exercise machine you'll really use, if you watch TV. The machine, or a device attached to it, would be programmed to constantly broadcast a recorded infrared signal trained from your remote. This code would be one that would interfere with watching TV. For example, volume-mute or channel-up, or a digit. Whatever you want to train it to. (Off doesn't work as that also turns the TV on.)

However, once you get on the machine and start using it, it stops sending this code, and you can watch TV. Once you have done your exercise quota, it would stop sending the muck-up code until you are next due to exercise, whatever your schedule is.

To stop you from just covering the transmitter with clothing (remember the clothesrack?) it would also need to have a receiver some distance away which gets upset and chirps annoyingly if it can't see the regular ping from the transmitter.

Others in the house not on a regimen could enter a code on the remote to temporarily disable the system when they want to watch. If 2 or more people had a regimen, they would have to enter which person they were to activate their disabling code. That gets a bit messy but it can be done.

Fantasy a risk in moviemaking?

At the Oscars last night (which were pretty boring, with one nice joke featuring Billy Crystal camcordering a new movie) Peter Jackson thanked the Studios for having the courage to back a big fantasy epic like the Lord of the Rings.

But a look at IMDB's list of all-time movie revenues reveals something else. Of the top 25 grossing movies of all time, how many were science fiction and fantasy?

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Down with P2P software that isn't P2P

No surprise that after the RIAA started filing lawsuits against people they allege were distributing lots of copyrighted files, a movement has sprung up to build filesharing networks where the user hosting data can't be traced so easily.

Today, on Kazaa, all they need to do is try to find a file, look at what a user is sharing and try to download it. That gives them the IP address of the party in question.

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Big Brother Tivo

Each year when Tivo reminds people they gather anonymized viewing data on Tivo usage by reporting superbowl stats, a debate arises. A common view is that it's OK because they go to a lot of work (which indeed they do) to strip the data of the identity of the user.

As noted, I've read Tivo's reports and talked to Tivo's programmers, and they did work hard to try to keep the data secure and anonymised.

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Car dock for my MP3 player

I like to use our Rio Karma MP3 player in the car, but it's not nearly as good as it could be. So here are some jottings on what an ideal car dock would do for the player.

  • Power and charge the player, of course
  • Offer various options for sending audio to the car, including a built-in quality FM transmitter, a port for a special Cassette sized interface (more below) and various cables for car stereos that have an accessory jack (as mine has for a trunk CD-changer) or plain audio inputs.
  • A wireless remote control to stick on the wheel (not needed if other remote control methods can work.)
  • A microphone.
  • To get really fancy, an 802.11 interface to allow it to sync up with computers inside the house while in the driveway. Though strictly, this would be even better inside the player, not in the dock.

The microphone would perform several roles. One, it would detect the ambient sound level in the car, and boost the music volume as the car gets noisier. No more super-loud when you start the car either.

Secondly, it would listen for the sound of the music the player is playing. It would try to tell if it was playing, so it could detect when the stereo is turned off or switched to something else, or when the car is turned off (if the loss of power from the accessory jack doesn't already reveal this.) When the sound stops (even if this takes 5 seconds to confirm) just pause the music back in time when the sound was first detected to stop. One could then from time to time send out pulses of the forthcoming audio, and if it hears them, treat that as a resumption of play.

Limit children's hours of TV viewing

Generally, I'm the last person to suggest we use technology to control people's lives and what they view. However, it's also the duty of parents to help teach their children how and when to use the media. Most commonly today you see things like the V-chip, which let parents block their unskilled children from seeing shows with certain "ratings."

Open Source voting machines

As I noted earlier, there are all sorts of risks with remote voting over the internet, even if I suggest a way to make it doable. However, this is different from the question of voting machines. Like the folks at Verified Voting I believe that a voter-verifiable paper ballot is the simplest way to make computerized voting more secure. And I like voting machines because they can improve access and even make preferential ballot possible down the road.

Solving the electoral tie problem

In 2000, the Florida Presidential election ended up in a tie. Many people get offended at that remark, because they don't think of elections as being compatible with ties, they insist that their candidate really won.

However, to scientists, you have a tie when the results differ by less than the margin of error. And I refer not simply to the margin of error from the problems in the voting machines, but a much more bizarre margin caused by political pressure to interpret the results in different ways.

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Eyes in the back of your head

Reading this NYT article about radar to cover car blind spots, which describes a system that will trigger lights in the rearview-mirror when cars are in the blind-spot, reminded me of an old idea I had some time ago I called "Eyes in the back of your head."

The idea would be to wear a special collar while driving. This collar would contain small electrodes that could lightly stimulate the skin on the back of the neck. Perhaps just one row, but ideally a small 2-D image should be possible.

This would be connected to a camera, radar or sonar system pointing back from the vehicle. It would map where other vehicles are, and turn that into an image on the back of the neck.

Thus, as a car came up behind you and passed you, it would feel like something brushing the back of your neck on one side.

I was inspired to this by reading about a system for the blind that mapped a video camera image onto a 2000 pixel electrode map on the stomach. It was found that over time, the nerves would retrain and a sort of limited vision could develop. Might this have application in driving, or perhaps combat?

The peril in automatic cars

I hinted last week I would write about a peril from and to automatic cars, or actually any drive-by-wire cars.

That peril is they become highly useful terrorist weapons. Today terrorists get kamikazis to drive ordinary cars to attack targets and checkpoints. It will be easy to modify a drive-by-wire car (including the self-parking cars already on the market) to be controlled by the cheap remote controls found on toy cars and planes today, and easy to mount a wireless camera (X10, the terrorist's tool!) as well.

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Fairer bathrooms

We've all seen public bathrooms where the women have a line snaking out into the hall, but we guys can just "whiz" in and out. We have sympathy (but not too much, see the joke)

Here's a good solution that will probably never fly because we're uptight. Two bathrooms: One small one with nothing but urinals for men, and another one with nothing but stalls to be shared among the sexes.

Where's the shame?

Ok, so the USA invaded Iraq with fear of WMD the announced reason for the extraordinary step of a pre-emptive war. The White House doesn't plan to apologize or say oops as evidence mounts the reasons were bogus.

Question: Would it be a wise move for the Democrats, for example, to issue their own apology. To say, "We voted for this war because we were told there was a serious threat. Learning there was not, we are deeply saddened, sorry and ashamed. How could we have done this?"

Saying this would ask the other side of the aisle, "Why aren't you ashamed, too?"

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Was MoveOn really clever

Perhaps I am too cynical, and after this you're going to think I hate MoveOn, but I'm wondering if the publicity over CBS's refusal to air their anti-Bush ad in the Superbowl isn't the result of very clever strategizing.

CBS claims they don't air controversial ads like election ads during the SuperBowl and never has. As far as I know, that's true. Not that I'm approving of the policy, I think they should take almost any ad that pays the fee.

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Wireless hubs at traffic signals

I recently read it costs about $150,000 to put in traffic lights here in California. That's a heavy duty pole, the lights, the power, the connection to other lights and the vehicle sensors. Seems to me modern technology should be able to make that a lot cheaper. New lights are all LED (the energy savings pay for themselves quickly) but that should also mean smaller safer power lines with special digging under the road. (Wonder if they could do it with light pipes and have no electricity up there.)

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Wonder why people distrust the USA?

Today, the U.S. Agriculture secretary issued a call that nations not ban beef imports from a country (like the USA) just because a single cow has been found with Mad Cow disease.

In other words, exactly what the USA did to Canadian beef when a single cow was found in Alberta with the disease.

And let's not get started on the Weapons of Mass Destruction question.

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