Advance scout robot for trains

Another transportion item, because last night the train I was on hit a car stalled on the tracks (the occupant is OK, though was hit by the car when the train bashed it.)

Since trains do hit things, why aren't solutions to this more common in our data network world? A laser detector over the grade crossings would be simple enough.

Why don't oil companies develop automatic cars

I'll be writing more in the future on ideas for auto-drive cars (both plus and minus) but let me start by asking the question of why the oil companies haven't jumped up to foot the bill for the development of automatic cars and highways?

It seems a big win for them. Given the availability of a car that would drive itself on the freeway and perhaps a few major roads, people would be much more willing to tolerate longer commutes, and that seems a win if you sell gasoline. A multi-billion dollar win.

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Fix some eBay feedback problems

Like many, I am interested in reputation systems, and eBay has built the largest public reputation system. Many have noted how feedback on eBay is overwhelmingly positive -- a 97% positive rating would be a reason to be wary of a seller.

It's also noted that people do this because they are scared of revenge feedback -- I give you a negative, you do it back to me. One would think that since the buyer's only real duty is to send the money that the seller should provide positive feedback immediately upon receipt of that money, but they don't.

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More on Tivo for Radio

Thinking more about the future of mobile audio (see Tivo for Radio Entry) I start to wonder if XM and Sirius satellite radio are doomed propositions. They seem like a good idea, nationwide radio, 100 channels, many commercial-free.

But how many of the stations does any given listener actually use? I would guess most people only listen to a few of them, just as they only listen to a few on the local dial.

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The fish that made it to Pittsburgh

I plan for this to be mostly an essay blog rather than a link blog, but I could not resist this story of yet another nightmare at airport security, as a student is ordered to "dispose" of her pet fish while trying to take it home with her on the plane.

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Digital Photo Organizing in the future

We're not there yet, but let me write my notes about what future digital cameras might do to help us organize our huge collections of photos:

  • GPS and compass in the camera knows where it is, and where it was pointing. Thus, if standing on the south rim of Grand Canyon and pointing north, probably a picture of the Grand Canyon. Organize your photos on a map.
  • Record audio said while taking photo if special button pressed. Later, upload audio to PC where it's able to do speaker-dependent speech to text at its leisure to caption the photos.
  • Face recognition. No, I'm not kidding. While this is Big Brother technology, and not very useful in airports, one thing it can do is try to find similar faces. So once you tag your mother, it will be able to search your photo collection for other shots with your mother. This is much easier than trying to take a random person and see if they are on the FBI wanted list.

US agrees not to repeat Arar case

The USA and Canada have agreed to tell each other before deporting citizens to third countries.

In theory, that's to not repeat the horrific story of Maher Arar, the Canadian programmer, born in Syria, who, while changing planes in New York on a flight from Europe to Montreal, was grabbed by U.S. agents, grilled and then deported to Syria, allegedly so the Syrians could torture him in ways the U.S. could not.

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I want my "Tivo" for radio in my car

Recently, we picked up a Rio Karma, which is a 20gb handheld jukebox that plays MP3, WMA and Ogg Vorbis. Particularly nice things about it include the Ogg support and the fact it has Ethernet, so that any machine on our net can transfer music into it. That's about all it does with the ethernet (it also has a small web server to serve the manual and a java transfer app) but I expect it will do more later, like be a streaming media gateway when docked on the stereo, allowing control from anywhere.

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Design of the ideal digital AV system and the Broadcast Flag

For some time I have been musing over the design of an ideal home A/V system using digital technology. Sadly it's not coming, in part because it's illegal under the new Broadcast Flag rules.

To read my design of this system, and the musings of the legality of it and why that presents a problem, see a draft on an Ideal A/V digital system

Moveon's campaign

Just about every blog has pointed to Moveon.org's Bush in 30 Seconds contest for anti-Bush TV spots.

The candidate spots are witty and clever, but I think they miss the mark. For those who have already decided they will vote for anyone-but-Bush, they bring many cries of approval. But that's not who they have to convince.

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Airport Check-in on the way there

Transit idea #2. Air travel is getting to be like hell, with searches and the need to get there so far in advance of the flight to be sure you will get through security that it cancels much of the benefit, turning 40 minute flights into 3 hour ordeals. High Speed train advocates point out the downtown-to-downtime time of the train on routes of 300-500km beats or is competitive with the plane, and it's true.

Virtual Right-of-way

I'm going to write more in the future about how transportation is not making using technology. Let me start with streetcars and the bus.

People use transit a lot more if it is able to beat the car, or at least keep pace with it. Thus we spend a lot of money on dedicated right-of-way for subways, trains and streetcars.

But this is really inefficient. The dedicated right-of-way sits empty 95% of the time. It does nothing so that a train can pass over it every 10 minutes (or more.)

The real location aware service

There is much talk of Location Based Services and geographical annotation these days. We either see scary LBS (network tracks you all the time, sends you Latte coupon when you walk near Starbucks) or query based services -- "based on where I am, where's the nearest good place to eat?" That's something Vindigo does without nearing a GPS, and does it fairly well.

I've been wondering about proactive location based services and annotations that work for you and protect your privacy.

Stop spam without demanding ID

There's a growing and dangerous movement to try to stop spam by forcing all mail senders to provide ID with each mail they send. Signing mail is not a bad idea, in fact it's quite useful, but to stop spam you have to make everybody sign their mail.

In the past this was a non-starter because this means forcing everybody who mails you to get new mail sending software, or at least to have their ISP do this. But spam has made us so angry people are talking about doing this, even though we don't demand ID for paper mail that, in theory, can contain white powder that can kill you.

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USA/Microsoft Metaphor

Many in the USA have trouble grasping how the country is viewed by those of us from outside it. I recently realized one analogy which explains this for those who are techies, especially Linux/Mac techies.

The rest of the world views the USA the way we techies view Microsoft. Except with tanks.

Fingerprint Everybody

Next Monday, the USA will start fingerprinting and photographing all visitors, except those from 28 ally countries -- fortunately for me, Canada is among those exempted.

60 years ago, the USA gave its all to take down a growing empire that wanted everybody to show their papers any time they moved. Now the USA is moving closer to what it fought. Aside from hurting the tourist industry, it's yet another example of removing fundamental rights from people without the right lucky birth accident.

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