Sunday, 16 December 2007

The perfect alarm clock

I read somewhere that we get a better night's sleep if we wake up at the correct point in a sleep cycle. I assume that cycles take a approximately fixed amount of time, so we could go to bed at exactly the right time in order to wake up the right point. This is neither convenient or, given that going to bed doesn't mean going to sleep, practical. So how else to get the perfect night's sleep?

A device that monitors your brain waves and wakes you up at the correct point in a sleep cycle before a predetermined time. Some mornings you'd get more time, some less, but you'd set the predetermined time to get you to work before your boss got mad! I know that it's possible to monitor brain waves by wearing a silly hat with wires in it, but is it possible to measure brain activity remotely? e.g. a sensor at the head of the bed. This would make the device more suitable because I don't want to go to sleep in a hat (it make you bald).

Saturday, 15 December 2007

USB spy chopper

I'm writing this post, because this is what I want for Christmas (read Winterval). The only problem is, it's not been invented. Yet.

The idea comes from the picooz, a mini remote controlled helicopter, which looks like a fun present. The only problem is, once you're flown it once, it looks like it'll be a little boring. What I want is a picooz with some function. Enter choppercam. The only problem is that this is a little expensive.

So what I want is a picooz with built-in wireless webcam. The picooz is flown via software on your computer (laptop for ease of transport) and charged via a usb base station (with transmitter/receiver) - possibly through induction so no connector (usb charged means no ridiculous number of AA batteries!). Rather than looking at the chopper while it's flying, you fly based on what you see via the webcam on your computer screen.

I would suggest two flight modes, one gives free control. Under the other, the chopper hovers until it receives an instruction from the following list:
  • ascend/decend Xcm
  • advance/retreat Xcm
  • turn Xo clockwise/anticlockwise
This would allow for greater control while taking covert footage. Obviously, the video feed would be saved to the hard disk for upload to utube (or equivalent). Some movement control of the camera would also be advantageous in this mode.

The flying software would have a battery level indicator allowing the pilot to return from the covert mission before falling out of the air.

Of course the usb-RC concept could be extended to:
  • infra-red/foam dart battling copters
  • RC cars, tanks (infra-rad/foam dart), boats, robots, planes, submarines etc
  • some kind of plane with a bomb-bay door that would allow dropping eggs!
Here's a picture to help communicate the concept:

Synthesiser vs robot musicians

Toyota have created a robot that plays violin. This robot is roughly human shaped and plays the instrument in the same fashion humans play it. If I were to design a robot to play instruments I would not design it human-shaped and playing the instrument the way a human plays it.

The robot can have more fingers than we have, one for each string/fret combination on the guitar, one for each hole on the flute. The robot guitarist would also have one plectrum for every string. This would allow the robot to play the instrument faster than humans can. Doing what a synthesiser does, but with real sound.

Communication with people you don't know

My previous post "How's my driving?" made me think of the difficulty we have in communicating with people we don't know. A website might just be the way to solve that. People could post messages based on a group they make up e.g.
  • To people who catch the N35 bus
  • To people who vote republican
  • To people who like chocolate
Preset groups could be made and the types of preset groups would be expanded upon based upon the desires of the site's users. Groups could be based on organisations, streets, parks, trains, hobbies, TV shows.

So how would you find what posts to look at? You would enter your details (confidentially) to the site (e.g. address, company, interests) and using categories, the most relevant posts to you would flag up when you log in (or digest via email). e.g. if you entered a New York address, all posts that were "To: The inhabitants of New York" would flag on your account.

Of course, this site would allow anonymous posting so people would not be afraid of posting controversial questions.

How's my driving?

I would (if I had the money, time, motivation and ability) set up a website called how's my driving. This website would allow anyone to post comments about the driving of a particular registration number. Each post would require the poster to note the time, date and what the driver did wrong.

Whilst this site is likely to upset some people who repeatedly get negative comments about their driving, it would provide a non-violent outlet for road-rage and might even encourage people to improve their driving.

The site would be ad-funded with the most common clients including motoring organisations (AA or RAC) and car insurance.

The site would allow anonymous posting so people were not afraid of retaliation when making a post.

Database design

I will confess to knowing next to nothing about database design, but the concept interested me. Whenever I have to make a telephone call or send an email to my bank or mobile phone company I wonder what information they hold.

If I were to design the system, I would break the information down as follows:

Standing info e.g. name, address, date of birth

Event data (for each phone call/email) e.g. person it relates to, staff member, date, time, what standing info changed [automatic], notes, files e.g. recording of telephone calls, copies of emails, scanned in correspondence

Actions e.g. instructions of what to do, status

I also wonder how many government databases are there? How many times is my name and address recorded. Is it possible to consolidate this information? Would it be possible to have different functional departments with access to different information? e.g. doctors can't find out about points of driving licence, tax inspectors can't find out about education record, but both can see home address.