Monday, 27 December 2010

The joys of having a teacher

My study recently has been self-taught. This experience has made me long for a teacher, and to think of what it is that is valuable about a teacher. My thoughts are as follows:
  • a (good) teacher will often teach not just the material to be taught, but the context for it (I absolutely love context)
  • a (good) teacher will often teach not just the material to be taught, but some of the history to it (I would probably classify the history as part of the context, but it is so important I thought it worthy of a separate bullet point)
  • having a teacher allows you to ask questions (or to at least get an answer rather than having to find it yourself)
  • havign a teacher allows you to challenge what you are being taught and, when rebutted in your challenge, you learn something
Here are some examples of context (and history) for the study of English Literature. These facts were not taught to me by my English Literature teacher, but if they had of been I suspect I would have enjoyed the subject more:
  • the number of books published to date
  • the number of books published annually (or a graph per year since the dawn of civilisation)
  • the first book
  • the first book written in English
  • the shorttest book
  • the longest book
  • the most popular books
  • the average number of books that a person reads in their lifetime

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Reading all published works

When was it last possible for a person to read all published works to date, within their lifetime (including books published during their lifetime?

I see this as a really important question to answer. One of the things that disappoints my about my English Literature lessons at school is that is did not provide me with the broad context of the written word, nor did it impress upon me the sheer volume of books published (and therefore how careful we must be in selecting what we read).

Mini-crampons for walking on icy roads and pavements

I've looked into buying mini-crampons for walking on icy roads and pavements, but the items I've seen for sale seem aimed at mountaineers, rather than the general consumer market. There must be a market for a simple single-strap (elasticated) crampon that has fairly short teeth, allowing walking on roads/pavements that have patches of ice. The long teeth of regular crampons would be a hindrance for most of the walking due to the only occasional patches of ice.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Cycle helmet vending machines, recyclable disposable helmets

With the proliferation of bicycle sharing schemes, concerns have been raised about encouraging the use of cycling without a cycle helmet. The solution, it seems to me, is installing cycle helmet vending machines at the bike share sites. Cycle helmets must be fairly cheap to make, it may even be possible to make recyclable disposable helmets that people can dispose of after use.

Overnight rail service

It is not uncommon for travelling business people to take a flight the evening before an early meeting the next day, and stay over in a hotel at the destination. I think this use of travel/accomodation presents a real opportunity for rail, as the slower speed of rail can be negated by combining the travel and accomodation in a high quality sleeper service.

The passenger would, as with the flight, board the evening before. Dinner would be served in a spacious and comfortable (contrast with aeroplane) dining carriage. The passenger would then retire to their cabin where they could take a shower, work at a desk, or watch a movie on the TV. The passenger would then go to sleep for the evening. In the morning the passenger would return to the dining carriage for a lovely breakfast. And then, most importantly, the passenger would arrive refreshed, in the heart of the city, ready for his/her meeting.

  • Cost (no separate accomodation)
  • Time (no need to travel from the airport to the hotel on arrival or again the same morning)
  • Comfort (trains can afford to be more spacious and therefore more comfortable than aeroplanes)

  • Although the train will be much more comfortable than the aeroplane for the travel, it is likely to be less comfortable than a hotel
  • It may not be possible to have a gym in the train (and certainly not possible to have a swimming pool)
If the person was travelling only for the day, they may wish to return by plane due to its superiour speed. If this is the case, an integrated travel company (or network) would be needed. The alternative is that the person boards the train again in the evening, and is returned to their home city in time for work the next day (again refreshed and in comfort).

Is there anyone else like me?

I'm sure this must be a commonly asked question, if only asked of ourselves. How to find out? Perhap a dedicated website where people post the things about themselves that they want to find out are shared by anyone else. The system then matches similar entries, and allows visitors to search the site. I suspect people would want a high level of privacy if sharing their deepest thoughts.

Nutritionally balanced bread

adreama: Food

I've written before about wanting to have a fully nutrionally balanced bar and milkshake. I wonder whether it is possible to bake a fully nutritionally balanced loaf of bread?

Head-mounted video camera

Having a constantly-recording head-mounted video camera would be a useful source of information for any job (assuming the convenience and privacy issues can be addressed), but it strikes me as particularly useful for builders and repair-person, if this information can be shared.

Say for example you have a problem with your heating system. You call out a heating system repair-person who has a head-mounted video camera. As they investigate to diagnose the problem, they talk through what they are doing, so that the latter viewer can understand. They identify the problem and fix it. A couple of years later you have another problem with the heating system. You call out a heating system repair-person and, before they start work, you give them a copy of the video. The pull this up on their tablet and scan through to get an understanding of past problems and solutions. They are then able to understand the system quicker and fix it quicker.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

What people want: to know their place in the world

But nobody tells them. They are left to figure it out for themselves. And how can they be certain of their conclusion?

A magnetic bag catch

I was thinking today about a magnetic bag catch. The magnets would be fairly thin, but sufficient strength of attachment would be achieved with a wide area (mainly height). The lose end of the strap (with magnet) would be passed through a non-magnetic metal loop on the other part of the bag and doubled back on itself. I think the diagram will explain better:

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Signing paper

Although many aspects of business have moved onto computer systems, there is still a requirement in many areas to produce hardcopy evidence. Often this is signed, however it is often difficult to prove when documents are signed as it's possible to sign at a latter date, but change the date to earlier.

I wonder whether its possible to produce a digital date stamp, that has an inbuilt clock updated by RF.The stamp would include the time, date, timezone, employee reference, etc. Obviously such a stamp couldn't eliminate fraud, but it could make it more difficult.

Reverse auction task website

While I'm thinking about reverse auctions (see previous post), how about a reverse auction task website? Buyers enter a task, e.g. paint my fence (5m x 2m), and sellers compete on price. Kind of like an eBay for services.

Reverse auction dare website

From looking on the internet, there seems to be a large number of crazy people in this world that are willing to do stupid things just to get youtube hits. But how about taking this to the next level? A reverse auction dare website, where "buyers" suggest dares and a maximum bounty they'll pay, and "sellers" compete on price. The "winner" does the dare and uploads video evidence. Whether the execution of the dare met the requirements would be up to community vote, after which, if sufficient, the bounty is released.

Obviously this is hugely unethical and would probably lead to serious injury and death, and I therefore advocate its creation in no way.

Layered utilitarianism

I've recently been reading Michael J. Sandel's Justice. I've found the arguments against utilitarianism to be unsatisfying (probably due to my staunch belief in utilitarianism). The argument about the total utility of feeding christians to lions is interesting (and perhaps provocative as the majority of Sandel's audience are likely to be christian). It led me to think about a layered version of utilitarianism that perhaps accords with Maslow's hierarchy of needs. The bottom layers of the pyramid take precedence over the upper layers. This way, in a life or death situation the utilitarian principle can be applied in saving the most number of lives (even if this requires sacrificing the few), but a self-actualisation situation would not infringe on basic needs.

Obviously this model shows up the lack of justice in the world, where the wealthy self-actualise whilst the poor starve.

I note there has been some criticism of Maslow's ranking, suggesting therefore that research is necessary to properly define the layers.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Sticking to the core mission vs making the most of opportunities

I read an article today about Apple's patent for a smart bike, making me think about whether this is something that it's in Apple's shareholders' best interests for it to be doing. Here are some arguments for and against companies expanding out of their normal area of expertise:

Arguments for
  • If an employee has come up with an innovative idea, it will be motiviating to that employee and other employees for the organisation to pursue it (it will also make the company a more attractive place to work, helping recruitment and retention)
  • Potential for more revenue
  • Potential to diversify the revenue base, making the company more stable and therefore more valuable
  • Potential to increase brand value by reinforcement (i.e. making the brand more common), and by associating it with new and innovative products

Arguements against
  • There is potential for the failure of the venture to cost the company money
  • There is potential for failure of the venture to cause brand damage, or that even a successful product could dilute brand value due to differences to the core product line
  • The lack of expertise in a new field increases the risk of failure
  • There is the potential that the venture could distract management time away from more important issues

Tuesday, 2 November 2010


All costs are labour costs (manhours) back down the line. Say you buy an apple from a shop, the cost of that apple includes the following:

Manhours for shop staff
Manhours for construction of the shop
Manhours for the materials that are used to construct the shop
Manhours of the farmer
Manhours of the construction of farm equipment
Manhours for the materials that are used to construct the farm equipment
Manhours of the distributer
Manhours of the construction of transport equipment
Manhours for the materials that are used to construct the transport equipment

In all but as simplified model society, it would be prohibitivelly complicated to calculate the total manhours for an item, but it is an interesting thought experiment.

In a totally equal society would it be possible to have a currency based on manhours?

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Hills and valleys map

I understand how contour lines work, and am fairly good at reading contour maps to work out where the hills are. The difficulting is that it can be a slow process. I envisage a "hills and valleys" map that colours the map (apart from the detail) two colours: one for valleys; one for hills. It would take some calculation to work out where a valley starts and a hill stops, but roughly the valley should come to halfway up the hill each side. I think this kind of map would give a very quick (if basic) understanding of the lie of the land.

Automated dog tug of war

Dogs are willing to invest a lot of energy in tug of war. I wonder whether it's possible to get it started, and then leave the dog to it, to save the ower the effort (and perhaps generate energy at the same time). In a non-energy generating solution, all that would be needed is a bungy rope (as used for bungy jumping) and then a length of dog-proof rope on the end. Once the owner initiates the dog's interest, the bungy would (hopefully) sustain it by pulling back. An energy generating derivative would perhaps use the same concept, but also attach the rope to a chain driven energy-generating flywheel (like a rowing machine).

Farm gate autocloser

The other day I was watching a farmer come out of a field. He got out of his vehicle, opened the gate, got back in his vehicle, drove through, got out of his vehicle, closed the gate, got back in his vehicle. This strikes me as very inefficient. An expensive solution would be a powered remote controlled gate (perhaps powered by solar power). But I'm sure it must be possible to have a sprung gate with some kind of delay, such that the driver has enough time to drive through before it closes. Or perhaps one where the spring kicks in once the car is past - a mechanism is triggered perhaps by the driver clipping a lever with his wing mirror (obviously only gently).

Needle in a haystack

I'd quite like to conduct an experiment to see how many manhours it takes (without using any magnets) to find a needle in a haystack.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Caffeine, but without the addiction

Are there any chemicals with beneficial psycoactive properties that the body does not get used to, resulting in dependency and higher dose to achieve the same effect?

Wednesday, 15 September 2010


Adulthood is about putting right all the wrongs of your childhood.

Automated paper shredder briquette maker

I want an automated paper shredder briquette maker. Auto-document feed at one end that can be loaded with confidential paper. Compressed paper briquettes for the wood burning stove coming out of the other end. Eco, but automated.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Vacuum capsule

Helium balloons work because helium is less dense than air. It seems to me that a vacuum is even less dense than helium. Is it possible to create a capsule light enough to be lifted by the buoyancy of the vacuum in it and strong enough to withstand that vacuum?

Retractable lens covers for binoculars

It drives me up the wall having to take four lens caps off binoculars every time I use them. I wonder whether it is possible to have a mechanical system that retracts (or otherwise moves) the lens covers when you hold down a button on the top of the binoculars.

Test the kids labels

I saw a role of cling film the other day and it said it was 50m long by 300mm wide. I tried to calculate the area of cling film in my head. The answer is of course 15m2. But I thought "wouldn't it be great if whilst you were out shopping, or when using products around the house, you could have ready-prepared questions to ask the kids about the products they (or you) are using". These would be part of the label for the product. Almost all products have weights and measurements, which lend themselves very well to testing kids maths. Another example that springs to mind is "this carton contains 1l of milk. If Billy has 200ml twice, and Jane has 75ml three times, how much milk is left".

I think such a series of labels would be a very successful PR exercise for supermarkets own brands.

Obviously, the labels would need to have the answers too, for those adults whose confidence in their mathematical ability is weaker.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Consumer technology: driven by technology?

Is the consumer technology market driven by technological innovation or consumer demand?

Obviously sales cannot be made without consumer demand, however companies are skilled at creating demand, making consumers want products that they mightn't otherwise want. So the question is: do comsumer technology companies make products to meet demand, or do they make products that they can make, and then shape consumer demand.

Consumer demand

There are many consumer technology products that consumers want, but that technology cannot currently (or ever) provide. For example, consumers want teleportation (safety concerns aside). Why do consumers want teleportation? Because they want travel to be more convenient, faster.

The same is true of more realisable technological advances: consumers want computers that are quicker, that start up quicker, that download information from the internet quicker. They want portable devices that have longer battery lives.

So what do consumers want? A few:

  • Save time
  • Save effort
  • Save money
  • Status
  • Reduce risk to friends, family, property
Is there a complete list somewhere of all the (types of) things consumers want?

In summary: there is always consumer demand for the benefit given by a product (or product feature), but not necessarily demand for the specific mechanism by which that demand is met.

Blog, website backup

I want a piece of software that automatically backs up my blogs, websites, etc at regular intervals to my local computer (or local network attached storage).

Journalism exclusivity protection

I feel the quality of journalism in the current news media falls below that standard that I would like. In particular, there is insufficient focus on investigative journalism. I don't believe the poor quality of journalism reflects the lack of intelligence or hard work of the journalists, but rather the economics of providing news. Investigative journalism costs money and doesn't generate sufficient impact to circulation. I wonder whether it would be possible to protect the exclusivity of a story in law (say for about a week) such that readers would be forced to buy the particular news service, rather than picking up the story second hand from their regular news service. This would make investigative journalism more economically viable.

Freezing to stop bleeding?

I was thinking the other day about how to stop bleeding from major injuries. I remember hearing that super glue is used, but I can't see how this would work if the blood is pouring out. I wonder what the impact of pouring on a very cool liquid (e.g. liquid nitrogen) would be. Would it freeze the wound, stopping bleeding for long enough to allow a clot to form? Or perhaps the combination of a very cool liquid and then super glue would work, the cool liquid slowing the flow enough for the super glue to work?

Friday, 20 August 2010

Happy bomb

I was thinking today about hiding away something that I'd later find, which would make me happy. I don't know what such an action would be called, so I termed it a happy bomb. Perhaps there is an opportunity for a business that you pay some money to for a particular object or service, and you get it at some point in the future at random to cheer you up.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Screen real estate vs productivity

I would like to see the results of an experiment to test the productivity of workers at various screen sizes, from a 50" display right through to a smart phone screen. The same software would need to be run on all screen sizes, and the input methods (mouse, keyboard) be kept consistent.

Auto optical disk backup

Backing up is essential, but it can also be laborious. For backing up to optical disk (CD or DVD) the process is very manual and requires the following steps: go and fetch optical disk; open optical disk drive; insert disk; close disk drive; run backup software; open disk drive; remove disk; close disk drive; store disk.

I would like to have a backup device that is remote from my computer (and connected over the home network either wired or wirelessly) and can house a stack of blank disks. In response to my backup schedule my backup software would automatically send the data to be backed up to this device, which writes the data to a disk. Periodically (at an interval of my chosing), the backup software would remind me to put the outputted disks from the backup device into storage.

The device could also function as a multiCD burner if you wanted to burn lots of optical disks or a mulitCD ripper if you wanted to rip lots of optical disks.

It's all about: summarisation, simplification, abstraction

We spend so much of our time summarising, simplifying or abstracting information for the benefit of other people or, having been presented with summarised, simplified or abstracted information, trying to get down into the detail. We spend time moving information up and down the scale of summarised, simplified or abstracted.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Google docs on Android phones

I recently acquired an Android phone, and was hugely disappointed with the functionality of Google docs on Android. Or in fact the complete lack of functionality. There are a couple of free apps, but nothing that does what I want.

I want the phone to be the primary storage for some documents (i.e. those I use mostly on the phone). But I want these to be automatically backed up to the Google docs server. And when I access Google docs online I want to know how current the version I am looking at is.

Saturday, 17 July 2010


If you think something's wrong with you, the you are right, if it is the case that "normal" doesn't think there's something wrong with them.

Walkie talkie app

I'd like to see an app for smartphones that turns a phone call into a push-to-talk two-way radio, complete with synthetically generated static. Obviously the functionality is actually reduced, but it would be good fun for kids to pretend to be police/army/etc, making covert radio transmissions.

Platform game on skyline

With augmented reality and a head mounted display I'd like to be able play a platform game of the skyline I can see, whether that be buildings, trees, mountains, etc. The key technology is being able to detect the skyline. The skyline itself may need to be augmented to make the game possible (e.g. if a jump between building is too great, a platform is put between them) and more interesting. It would be possible to play unique games on the world's famous skylines (e.g. the pyramids, New York, etc).

Version control embedded in files

Why don't files incorporate version control in them? e.g. each word file having stored within it all previously saved versions.

Lemmings screensaver

I want a screensaver of random lemmings levels being completed by the computer.

CCTV view

It would be interesting if, walking down the street, you could watch yourself on the CCTV cameras that can see you, on a head mounted display (video glasses). Using GPS technology, the view would automatically shift to the nearest CCTV camera that has you in its field of vision.

Monday, 12 July 2010

What social change do I want technology to deliver?

  • Global democracy
  • Lower corruption
  • Less selfish behaviour
  • Greater wealth equality


I want a bar and a milkshake-like drink that are nutritionally complete, i.e. if you ate nothing but the bar or the drink you would have a complete and balanced diet. All macro and micro nutrients included in the appropriate concentration. It must taste ok, and have a good shelf life.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Thoughts on music players

I want one-touch-operated, instantaneously-operational, advert-free, DJ-free music in every room of the house, without excessive wiring. What are the options?
  • Media server + wifi speakers
  • Wifi radios (no need to run media server 24/7)
Or perhaps I should have a TV in every room? Again one touch to start/play and instantly operational. Option to access digital media collection (music, playlists, films, pictures).

Relative comfort of heat, humidity and air flow rate

I would like to do some experimentation on the relative comfort of heat, humidity and air flow rate, producing an "air comfort index" that takes into account all three. This might be done by having two waiting rooms controlled at different heat, humidity and air flow rates, and seeing which one people choose to sit in.

Sofa covers

Sofa throws cause me emotional distress. They only remain neat and tidy until someone sits on the sofa, after which they become a mess of folded fabric half falling off the furniture. But throws are also great: they can be changed to suit the colour of the room (or season, or day of the week); they can be replaced if stained. So how to get the benefits without the downsides? Fitted throws. The problem with this is that they are more restricted to particular sofas, increasing the cost. So...

I would quite like to see the modularisation and standardisation of sofas to facilitate the market in fitted covers. Beds, duvets and pillows have standard sizes.

In the shortterm, I would like a sofa that uses fitted bed sheets and pillow cases. The sofa uses a single mattress for the bit you sit on, and has back cushions the size that will fit pillow cases. As there are already so many colours and patterns of sheets and pillow cases out there, this would allow significant customisation of the sofa. (and ease of washing)

I'm sure there is a business opportunity for a company to make sofa frames and cushions that fit standard size fitted sheets and pillow cases. The sofa arms are the most difficult, possibly a cushion that sits vertically in a slot between the mattress and a wooden wall, or one that forms an 'n' shape over a wooden arm.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Technological stabilisation

I have been reading recently about the possibility of a Technological Singularity. There are some impressive graphs showing the rate of change of technology. This is certainly interesting, but I am a little skeptical. If we look one variable of technology, the speed of the fastest public transportation (see graph below), we find that this has actually dropped and plateaued in recent years. The reasons for this are: physical limits (the sound barrier) and associated costs; demand (you can get all the way around the Earth in 24h). There is a maximum acceleration that the human body can tolerate, which will dictate speed in the long term (until we enhance or transcend our biological existence, develop warp or develop wormholes).

Friday, 9 July 2010

What to reward?

If we reward raw talent we are unfair to those born without it. If we reward hard work we encourage neglect of other aspects of life (especially family, health). So what should we reward? Balance: those who attain and maintain a well balanced life. Does society currently do this? No. Could it? Possibly, but measuring balance is even more difficult than measuring talent and hard work.

[N.B. can substitute “praise” for “reward”, although I see “praise” as a hyponym of “reward”]

Are search engines a stop gap measure?

At the outset of the World Wide Web, when there was little order to the vast amount of information on the internet, search engines were essential in finding what you wanted. But as information is ordered, and databases built, their role becomes less and less important. If you want to look up a movie, you could use a search engine, or you could use IMDB (Internet Movie DataBase). As more websites (online databases), that are equivalently comprehensive, are created, the importance of the search engine is increasingly diminished. So, why isn’t Google (both exposed to this trend and cash rich) not buying up and developing these databases?

[N.B. obviously search is still necessary in the sense of database queries, but I see this as different to a search engine's database of crawled websites]

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Bike brake lock

Another thought on bike locks: what about a way of locking you brakes on (with key or code). This provides a quick convenient way to lock your bike for a short period of time.

Hoover cord bike lock

You know how the power cord for hoovers is on a springloaded coil, such that it is retracted into the body of the box when it is not needed. Wouldn't that be good for cable bike locks? The coil container could be firmly attached to the bike. The cord is extended from the container round a lamppost (or some such) and then locked to the container (the lock is built in). This way, you wouldn't need to worry about carrying the lock around with you (only the key or code) as it's already part of the bike.

Friday, 2 July 2010

No need for laptop external monitor

Why do we need separate monitors for laptops? Because working on a laptop for a long time can cause strain on the neck as the screen is too low and too close. I suggest that rather than use a separate monitor, the laptop monitor can be extended away from the laptop based, probably with a multi-stage extensor to get sufficient distance. The screen would need to be light enough and the base heavy enough that it wouldn't tilt back, but given the weight of current laptops (and hence their screens) this seems plausible. If this is not possible then an extendable downwards support from the monitor would be needed.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Smart appliances

I want my fridge to be smart so that when I leave the door open (detected by door sensor) or the temperature increases for some other reason (detected by temperature sensor) I can get alerted to this, by an audible alarm or email. But I also want it to be programmable, so that I choose the conditions under which it alerts me: I don't want a bunch of alert emails just because I've been loading the fridge with the product of that week's shopping trip.

Similarly, the oven. I want alerts (audible and email) to tell me I've left the oven or hob on. But I want to choose the conditions under which I get them. I don't want alerts because I've left a slow-cooking dish on all day.

Also, ovens could deliver novel cooking instructions. Rather than the standard 200oC for 2 hours, the instructions might be 100oC for one hour, increasing to 200oC linearly over the next hour.

User control/customisability is key.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Solar/wind-powered wimax

Getting wired broadband to the countryside is proving problematic, with the cost of infrastructure quoted in the 10s or 100s of thousands in some cases. Would it not be cheaper and quicker to run a set of solar and wind-powered (with battery) wimax transmitters/receivers across the fields?

Custom metadata

I think that the metadata system for mp3s should be redesigned to support custom/personalised metadata. This would enable people to label their tracks as "favorites", "car tunes", "party tunes", "bathtime classics", etc.

Custom bikes

There are three points of contact between people and bikes: the seat; the handlebars; and the peddles. Bikes typically allow adjustment of the seat post height and, to a much lesser extent, the handlebars. In both cases these adjustments are in a constricted motion relative to the peddles.

I envisage a bike fitting device for shops that allows the seat, handlebars and peddles to be moved independently of each other to attain the perfect arrangement (and height off the ground) for the customer. This would work by attaching the seat, handlebars and peddles to adjustable supports on the walls/floor. The shop staff can adjust the location of all three points of contact and then the customer can peddle away (connected to a flywheel [or generator - free energy from your customers!] to simulate the force required) and see if it is comfortable. When the customer is happy with the arrangement, the measurements are taken, then sent away to be custom manufactured.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Youthful dreams

Why should we honour the naive dreams and ambitions of our youth? Surely it is those dreams we have once we have experienced life that we should follow? And what should we do until then? Strive to be in a position to realise those dreams once we have them.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Things to reduce things to to make them understandable


Direct file transfer between portable devices

Sharing files between two PCs is easy: you can do it over a home wifi/wired network; you can do it over a direct cable connection network; you can do it over a ad hoc wireless network; you can transfer files with a memory stick; or you can use the internet. Sharing files between portable devices (e.g. mp3 players) currently requires a computer. Would it be possible to create a portable device (no larger than an mp3 player) to all direct sharing of files between portable devices? Or is this perhaps a function for a smartphone? Perhaps you could plug the mp3 player into the smartphone to transfer files too or from it?

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Laptop/desktop hybrid

One of the advantages of laptops over desktops is the absence of cables and separate components. At a minimum, there are monitor cables, mouse cables, keyboard cables, and speaker cables. So why not have a desktop computer where the computer is built into the monitor. The keyboard too can be built in and fold down from the computer. Or both the keyboard and mouse can be wireless, and the computer have built in charging bays. The only cable is the power cable to the computer.

Monitor to digital photo frame

Got a spare LCD monitor? Wouldn't it be good if there was a device you could plug into the input to turn it into a digital photo frame. The device would have built-in storage, a memory card slot or a USB slot, and a USB or wifi interface to get files onto it.

Buyer-driven ebay

As far as I can see (and I haven't researched much), there is no buyer-driven version of ebay. What I mean by this is a site similar to ebay where buyers log on and post items they want and how much they are willing to pay. When a seller comes to want to sell an item they input the details into this site and find people who might be interested. The seller then makes an offer, which is contractually binding when the seller agrees.

The problem this solves is the temporal disconnect between buyers and sellers, which is more common for rarer, less traded items. For example, a seller may put something on ebay and have no response as the person that is interested in that item hasn't logged on recently to check.

Possibly the best mode for this would be an add-on to existing auction sites so that sellers are automatically informed of interested buyers when they start to submit an item to the site (but before they set it up as an auction).

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Moving house (with a zeppelin)

Would it be possible to lift a building, including its foundations, with a zeppelin or airship and move it to an new location? Perhaps first by tunneling underneath the building to build a base that the zeppelin connects to.

The reason for doing this would be to preserve historically important buildings that may be at risk from flooding, volcanos, or other natural disasters.

Fourth plinth app

The Fourth Plinth of Trafalgar Square plays host to temporary works of art. Perhaps the next should be virtual: a sculpture that can only be seen in augmented reality (perhaps via a smartphone app).

Allaying my fears

I've posted before about the kinds of possible future technologies that I am afraid of. One of these was that we would develop virtual reality so responsive to our needs that no-one wants to live in the real world, resulting in the fall of civilisation.

This depressing prediction is the result of extrapolating existing trends: games are getting more addictive; people are dying at their screens playing MMORPGs (or leaving their children to die. But future prediction that relies on extrapolation is rarely accurate.

So what will happen instead? I suspect that we will develop virtual reality that is optimised to refresh us and then eject us back out into the real world. It won't leave you wanting more, but will inspire you to tackle real-world challenges. It'll still be fun, but it will sell better than addictive games because it will actually make your life better. Has the development of this kind of virtual reality started?


What happens when there is enough (easily accessible) out-of-copyright media of every type (and high quality) to last a person a lifetime? Will people buy new media?

Generating profit overseas

Companies tend to pay tax in the country they are incorporated in, and countries they are making sales (profit) in. They may however have operations in countries without making a profit there, e.g. a overseas call centre. For the staff of this call centre, the profitability of the company they work for does not benefit their country (although employment taxes do). I'd like to know, for every country in the world, how many of the workers generate profit overseas and how many foreign workers generate profit in that country.

Friday, 30 April 2010

Two half-watches

I thought of an interest concept for a watch: two hald-watches. One tells the minutes, one tells the hour. They could be digital or analogue. You could wear them one on each wrist, or both on the same wrist. They could be designed to slot together in a complimentary shape. They could operate entirely independently, or communicate (and synchronise) wirelessly.

SIM cards

Why do we need SIM cards? Why can't we just log into the phone in the same way we log into a computer?

Automating invention

This thought follows from my earlier one about biomorphs. Invention, at least by some of the accounts I have read, is about making links between previously unconnected thoughts, concepts, theories, problems, needs, wants, technologies etc. If you can get enough of these into a database, then it can stimulate the kind of thinking that may lead to innovation. For example, the software randomly selects a technology and a problem, then the innovator needs to think about how that technology can be used to solve that problem. The software will not create the innovation (not for a few years of AI development), but it can help people to. This idea has already been done to an extent with The Prior-Art-O-Matic.

Biomorphs - artificial selection in design

I was intrigued by the biomorph idea described in Richard Dawkin's the Blind Watchmaker. But what I'm disappointed by is the little evidence I find of this kind of artificial selection in design. What is great about this biomorph method is that is introduces randomness that the designer might not think of, but can instantly recognise as valuable. It is fundamentally applicable to any kind of design, as long as we can build the software and the right kind of rules (not too restrictive, not too random).

Some possible areas: art, (e.g. taken a existing picture/photo and mutate), logos, videos, music,wallpaper patterns, architecture, etc

Advanced users would be given lots of control over the rules used to mutate.

Monday, 12 April 2010

A purpose for the human race

to promote the continued existence of intelligent life

Magnifying glass app

I wonder if a smart phone could be used as a magnifying glass, using the camera and a zoomed-in image on the screen. It would perhaps be useful for people who are visually impaired.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Bio-impedance analysis clothing

Bio-impedance analysis is used to measure body fat percentage. It is done using special scales or a hand-held monitor. As such, the measurement is a deliberate activity. It also suffers from some inaccuracy as it measures only from foot to foot, or hand to hand. If a web of wires is built into clothing, the measurement could be automatic, and the measurement could cycle through measuring from different points to different points, giving a much more accurate reading.

The value of free time - using a dishwasher

I think it would be interesting to work out the value people place on their free time by looking at how much they are willing to spend on time saving devices such as a dishwasher. Look at the lifetime costs and time taken of hand washing dishes and using a dishwasher.

Preserving and sharing toys

I would like to see an online community with a mission of creating 3D representation of every toy ever made, and providing a (set of) digital environment(s) for them to interact. It has actually become fairly easy to create 3D models, with the rise of free 3D modelling tools and techniques using just a webcam.

Given the nature of many toys (and many computer games), the interactions between toys may tend towards violence. Imagine Action Man vs My Little Pony...

The anti-patent

I think it should become a more common activity for people to publish their ideas to limit what others are able to patent.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

It's all about: arrogance

Many situations, and almost all conflict, can be considered in terms of arrogance.

Making enemies

Not even the richest man in the world can afford to make enemies.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Online success

I have been thinking recently about what makes online companies successful. Here's the output of my musings:

Twitter = blogging + RSS + word limit + popularity

Facebook = personal web pages + email + popularity (Facebook is also closed, but I don't think protecting people's data is what drove people to Facebook or made it successful.

Google  = search + better algorithm + cleaner interface + popularity

Putting content online
  • That only you can see – Google Docs/Zoho
  • That only your (vetted) friends can see – Facebook
  • That only subscribers to you can see – Twitter
  • That everyone can see – Personal webpages/Blogs/Youtube/Forums

Access to content via
  • Just a normal web page
  • An account/reader

Are touchscreen tablet computers the ultimate childrens toy?

I think so. A waterproof, ruggedised (chewing-proof and drop-proof) tablet could be introduced to children from a very young age (before talking and walking). For the youngest, the screen displays colours, patterns and shapes, and responds to touch (via the touchscreen), sound (via a microphone) and movement (via a webcam and accelerometer). The software could "learn" the child's preferences, for example if the colour orange generates more input from the child then the software uses this colour more often.

As the child ages, the tablet can be switched to different modes. For the toddler, the tablet provides games (e.g. name the object), jigsaws, drawing. The colour be selected from a menu with big "buttons" that the child learns to understand.

For the older child, the tablet can revert to how and adult would use it, with a standard operating system, wifi, browser, learning applications, and games. One toy could last through all stages of development. And it's longevity would justify the cost.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Automating the measurement of food intake

Recording what you eat is painfully laborious. There's the pain of noting down what you've eaten, and then the pain of looking up its nutritional value. Unfortunately, automating this process is more difficult than the process is painful.

The ultimate solution is probably an always on video camera that records exactly what you see (this may well come for different reasons, once society has evolved to accept the privacy concerns) and records what you eat via object recognition. This is then automatically looked-up against food databases to give accurate nutrition information.

In the absence of this non-existant technology, what are the other options? A tiny accelerometer could be embedded in the jaw to give data on mastication as a proxy for how much you are eating (and talking, and chewing chewing gum, etc); a sensor could be embedded in the stomach to measure something (perhaps pH?); some kind of sensor in the oesophagus?

I think it is worthwhile having an input sensor in addition to a sensor that measures the impact on blood substrates. This way we can measure the impact of particular foods on blood substrates, and therefore determine what to eat.


Live your life by your own rules, but make sure these are congruent with the rules of society.

Monday, 15 March 2010


We need applications (web-based or desktop-based) to automate the extraction of our data from one cloud and then upload it to another. Say, for example, you want to move from Facebook to MySpace. You log into your Facebook account and then run the programme (in another tab of the browser if web-based or from your computer if desk-top based). All your contacts, personal description, hobbies, messages, etc are downloaded and then uploaded to your new MySpace account. It could even automate a message to your Facebook contacts saying "I've gone to MySpace, please join me!". Obviously there is some tweaking to do as the MySpace set-up differs. But much less than starting afresh.
Other examples: downloading all your emails, labels and contacts from your Gmail account; downloading your music preferences from Spotify or
Are there legal restrictions to doing this? Companies could perhaps tap into the open-source community to avoid this. Even if not, the website suffering the automated access would seek the block the access to stop users leaver their service. The applications would need to be continually updated to circumvent the counter-measures.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Inflation-proof bank account

I would like a bank account where the savings rate tracks inflation such that wealth is growing ever post tax:

interest rate = inflation / (1- tax rate) + margin

e.g. 5.1% = 3% / (1 - 40%) + 0.1%

Robot boxer/martial artist

Punchbags don't fight back; and when fighting with another person (at least during training) you don't tend to go "all out". It would be interesting to fight a robot boxer/martial artist. It could be programmed to pull its punches, but you would be free to hit it as hard as you could. Technology's not there yet though...

Automated book to movie

How clever would a computer need to be to make a book into a movie? The dialogue can be converted by speach synthesis; the visuals converted from the description (by looking up each word in a word-to-image databased). Until such a system became very advanced it would likely require human intervention remove errors that a computer wouldn't understand, and to edit a very long movie into a normal length one.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

What future technology am I afraid of?

I see most technological advancement as a good thing, so I thought I'd try to identify what future technology I am afraid of. So far, the only things I have come up with are:
  • people-monitoring technologies that will infringe privacy and facilitate a totalitarian state;
  • weapons (chemical, biological, nuclear, etc) that will cause great harm if in the wrong hands (note: most hands are the wrong hands);
  • robots - if they try to take over; and
  • virtual reality - if we create a virtual world so responsive to our needs that no-one wants to live in the real world, and civilisation crumbles.
Society adapts to accomodate new technologies, so we will adapt to these technological advancements (we already have CCTV without decent into totalitarianism, and we already have World of Warcraft without everyone being addicted to online games). However, there may come a point, particularly in these areas, where society cannot adapt sufficiently and our civilisation is undone.

Morning light bulb

It seems to me that daylight bulbs are not a good approximation of morning sunlight. Is that because morning sunlight has a different spectral range? Perhaps it would be possible to make a morning light bulb.

Powered exoskeleton with wings

Would it be possible for a man to fly like a bird with a powered exoskeleton with wings? (i.e. no propellor or jet propulsion)

Online identity management

Very near the top of my wishlist for tech companies to pull their finger out and actually do, is sort out online identity management. I avoid using, or trying out, new web services because of the hassle of registering (and I already use an online password manager that makes it easier).

Firstly, online password managers (e.g. Clipperz, LastPass, Passpack) need to go mainstream (e.g. be bought by Microsoft or Google), so that I can trust these services with my bank details (if they weren't secure enough, the big names wouldn't take the reputational risk). And with them, online form autofill services (e.g. LastPass).

Secondly, OpenID or an equivalent needs development and publicity (to get widespread adoption).

Alternate communications systems and data sets

I have come up with several ideas for communications services for communicating with people you don't know, drivers and anything you can name. A unifying feature of these, although to a lesser extent the "anything you can name" idea, is the dataset of communications recipients. For drivers the data set is well established: license plates numbers. There are also well established data sets for communicating with people you don't know: zip codes, street addresses, lists of companies, lists of charities, etc. The key to expanding this idea is identifying data sets and getting access to them.

Why I like Wikipedia

I think the reason I like Wikipedia, aside from it being free and having a good amount of information. Is the metadata and the context, which are partly delivered through links. For example, if I look up the Empire State Building, I don't just find out its height (the data), but am linked through to a comparison page and what buildings its record height was preceeded by and succeeded by. I am immediately immersed in the context of the subject.

It's all about:: risk management, performance management

Is risk management a subset of performance management, or is performance measurement a subset of risk management? In one sense, the risk of poor performance is but one of the many risks, therefore performance management is a subset of risk management. In another sense, risk management is just one task of many tasks that need to be undertaken, and which the performance of needs to be measured. In this sense risk management is a subset of performance measurement.

Either way round, both concepts are pretty all-encompasing.

Talking to the wall

I envisage an online communication site that allows public communication with anything: you can leave a message for anything you can name. For example if you want to leave a message for "the wall" you type in "the wall" into the To: field on the site and write a message in the Message: field (along with links, images, video, etc).

Messages can be anonymous, or users can generate an account.

Other users (or the same user) can post follow-on messages to each message.

The site can show all messages to "the wall", but would also provide contextual links to other message recipients e.g. "the Berlin wall" or "the wall in my basement".

Why would people use the site? To express themselves. To hide messages for people. To rant at a nameless bureaucrat or a bad driver. To communicate with a group of people who have not yet organised as a group.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Why we need both voice and handwriting recognition

Imagine: you've had a hard day at work, you stumble up the stairs, flop onto the bed. You say "Computer, play Led Zeppelin II" and instantly "Whole lotta love" is blasting out of the stereo, helping to reinvigorate you for the evening ahead. Why do we need voice recognition? Because scrolling through menus so select an album to listen to (say on your smartphone), and then going through another set of menus to tell your smartphone to play via your bluetooth speakers, takes too long.

So if voice recognition gets nailed, do we need handwriting recognition? I think so, otherwise your office is going to be a very noisy place! (obviously it may lead to a revolution office working, but there are still occasions when you don't want to speak what you're writing out loud.)

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Equanimity and the Big 5 personality traits

I was thinking today about equanimity and the big 5 personality traits. I've always thought equanimity to be a good thing, perhaps inspired by the lines from Rudyard Kipling's poem:

If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;

But it seems to me that equanimity is just the combination of two personality traits: low extraversion (i.e. not getting too excited by good things); and low neuroticism (i.e. not getting too upset by bad things).

Friday, 12 February 2010

Data driven property investment

It would be interesting to do some data driven property investment whereby the price per square foot is correlated against factors such as indices of deprivation, or distance from transport hubs, and outliers are investigated further as investment opportunities.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

What I want from an online media service

I want to be able to access every single recording of every single piece of music, every film and TV show ever made, every book and article every written in one place.
Ability to download
I want to be able to download a significant amount of this to a local device (smartphone, computer, ebook reader, etc) to cover those periods that I am not connected to a sufficiently fast connection in order to stream.
Service not product
I want to pay-per-use. I expect that the artists I listen to the most will get the most money, and those that listen to it the least get the least money. I want there to be a pricing cap for each piece of music. So, I may pay 0.5c every time I listen, but I pay not more than $1 per track. Once I've spent a dollar on a track I can listen to it for the rest of my life for free. The same should be true for movies: $1.50 every time I watch it, with a $8 cap.
Peripheral functions
I want a record of everything I've ever listened to, and to be able to search through that data (including through the lyrics of songs). I want recommendations from friends, and recommendations generated based on my ratings of media that I have experienced. I want encyclopedic details of every track, album, artist, etc. I want lyrics to every song. I want to be able to give private and shared reviews of every piece of media I have experienced. I want to be able to highlight and annotate my ebooks.

More convergence

Apple may have found a niche between the smartphone and laptop, but the general trend is towards convergence. What is the logical endpoint of this? I think the smartphone will become the only device and all other devices will become smartphone peripherals.
The peripherals
Instead of a tablet PC, you have a 10" touchscreen that your smartphone slots into the back of. The screen provides some extra RAM and processing power if necessary.
Instead of a laptop, your touchscreen mentioned above has a clip-on laptop keyboard and touchpad. Again the body of the keyboard can provide some extra RAM and processing power if necessary.
Instead of a desktop, your smartphone connects wirelessly to your 24" screen, which is connected to a mouse and keyboard (and other peripherals). Again the screen can provide some extra RAM and processing power if necessary. Obviously if a larger screen in not necessary, then the 10" touchscreen mentioned above can dock onto a monitor stand (with connections to the mouse and keyboard) and then connect wirelessly to the smartphone.
Instead of a dedicated music player, you have speakers that wirelessly play music from the smartphone. The smartphone only contains enough of a music collection to tide you over being out of connectivity, but the smartphone can stream music directly from the internet.
Instead of a DVD player your TV (just another large touchscreen, or projector) plays video wirelessly from the smartphone. The smartphone only contains enough of a video collection to tide you over being out of connectivity, but the smartphone can stream video directly from the internet.
Your smartphone also wirelessly communicates with your fridge, washing machine, cooker, etc over wifi. When you are out-and-about, the fridge can still talk to your smartphone via the wifi box and internet connection (and 3G connection to the phone).
Instead of a landline phone you have, a smartphone which should be able to make VOIP calls.
What needs to happen to get us there
More processing power in smartphones
More RAM in smartphones
More HD capacity in smartphones (500GB of flash memory should do it)
Faster data rates for wifi
Better online music/video systems (to be discussed in a later post)
More cloud storage of data

LCD dancefloor

I imagine an LCD (or equivalent) dancefloor that is pressure sensitive and reacts to the steps of the dancer with patterns or images. For example, each step might produce a ripple.
The images could interact with each other on the floor, generating new and unique combinations, depending on who is dancing with who.
By wearing a tag on each shoe (on hands for breakdancers), the floor could sense who's foot it was and give users custom patterns or images. A keen dancer may prepare a sequence or set of patterns/images in advance.
The images on the floor could pulse to, or be timed with, the beat of the music.
The LCD would obviously be protected with toughened, and perhaps frosted, glass.
The floor could also work for activities other than dancing, such as virtual football, where you stop the ball by putting your foot down next to it, and move your foot along the floor to kick it.
This technology would become obsolete (or at least less cutting edge) once holograms are mastered, whereby the dancer can interact with 3D objects (e.g. a holographic dancer).

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Perspectives and radicalism

An outsiders perspective is "how would I design this". They think in an idealistic and theoretical manner, and promoted revolutionary change. In contrast, an insiders perspective is "how would I improve this". They think in a practical and realistic manner, and promote incremental change.

Too many chiefs, not enough indians

I believe that in current society there are too many leadership and management positions, and too many people wanting to be leaders and managers. I believe this excess is partly due to an individualistic society, and partly due to disproportionately high pay for leaders and managers. Whilst status is a reward inherent in the job, there is no need to pay leaders and managers more, there are sufficient people motivated by the status reward.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Smartphones to replace audio tours

I've always disliked audio tours. Too slow. Too boring. But make them into an app on a smartphone, with pictures, video, audio, hyperlinks and content control (i.e. control of how much you want to find out), and suddenly going round a museum or gallery might be fun!

Virtual graffiti in augmented reality

A smartphone app that allows you to draw graffiti on the walls of public places using the phone's motion sensor and camera to record the movements and the phone's GPS to record the location. Users and friends can see their graffiti on their phone screens, when the camera is pointed at a particular place, or through augmented reality glasses. As the graffiti can be shared with friends but is only visible in the location (or optionally online) it creates a new mode of personalised location-based communication.

Remote controlled and robotic toys for cats and dogs

There should be more remote controlled and robotic toys for cats and dogs. A ball robot is ideal for dogs as the lack of chewable edges should make it indestructable.

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Audiobook/Film hybird

I'd quite like to see audiobook/film hybrids: an exact audio version of the book (not abridged), accompanied by music, with cartoon animation (with speech/though bubbles), or an exact audio version of the non-speech parts of the book, over a normally shot (but probably longer) movie.

I think this would be especially good for books with lots of description, such as Lord of the Rings.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Window openers

All new homes should be designed with electronic window openers that are linked wirelessly to the home computer terminal and room thermometers, allowing the house temperature to be controlled automatically, precisely and efficiently.

Implants in my blood stream

I want an implant in my blood stream that tells me, continuously, my pulse, blood pressure, blood temperature and the concentration of every blood constituent (glucose, cholesterol, sodium, chloride, potassium, iron, oxygen, adrenaline, testosterone, etc).

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

No cheating essay software

It is far too common for students to write essays pasting information directly from wikipedia, or other digital material. This could be prevented by a dedicated essay-writing software that did not allow pasting (and copying). The student would have to write the text manually rather than pasting. Essays would be saved in a proprietary file format and submitted in that format. The file format may need to be protected to ensure hacks are not set up. The software would need to be freeware so that any student could download it to their home computer.

In the longer term, once computing has moved to the cloud, the software with no copy/paste functionality would sit in the cloud, negating the need for a protected file format.

There would have to be a "move" functionality in the absence of copy/paste to allow students to reorganise the essay.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

10p worth

I posted quite a number of ideas on this blog. In amongst them there might be a profitable product, although there would obviously need to be a lot of product development. My point (I'm getting there slowly) is that these ideas have some value, even if it is only small (e.g. 10p), and if something has value there may well be a business model capable of extracting that value. This concept is not new, I remember a website called that was effectively the same thing, but I think they went bust. So the question is this, how can companies realise the creative potential of the public to generate competitive advantage?


We can put a man on the moon, but we can't stop them peeing on the floor. Or have we not tried hard enough? It seems to me that there is insufficient thought put into urinal design to prevent and mitigate men's aim issues. Firstly, not all of the urine that ends up on the floor is the result of poor aim, some is backsplash from urinals that are not deep enough (and have the recipient surfaces at the wrong angle). Secondly, the floor around urinals should be sloping and have collection grooves so that any accidents are not left on the floor. I'm sure there are many more solutions, if we just put some good minds to work on this simple issue.

Why has pavement personal powered transportation not taken off?

There is a niche, somewhere in between cycling and motorcycles/mopeds for personal powered transportation that can go on the pavement. The niche is people who commute less than 5 miles, but too far to walk (greater than 2 miles for most people), who don't want to get sweaty cycling, or get killed on the roads on a motorcycle/moped. Segways are in this niche, but are not the optimum, as the commuter cannot store them under their desk at work. The other contenders are electric skateboards and motorized scooters (a kick scooter with a motor), and the smaller versions of these are easy to store under a desk.

So what are the barriers to this niche being exploited? Legal - road and pavement legality? Image - not cool enough, or too youth-oriented for the commuter? Practicality - concerns over crowed pavements, pedestrians getting annoyed?

Monday, 25 January 2010

What the iSlate must have

It is not usual that I am topical on this blog, but I will break the mould on this occasion. The iSlate (iTablet, iPad, etc) is due to be announced on Wednesday. Having never owned an Apple product I am unlikely to buy the thing, but I am very interested in whether Apple can pull off another iPod or iPhone. Each of these predecessors, whilst not something I would buy, have stoked the industry into producing a product that I would buy. My hope is that the innovation of the iSlate is that Apple have cracked perfect handwriting recognition and are going to make it mainstream. If they don't, keyboards will lumber on for another decade or two.

It's all about: intelligent customers

Many of the problems of the world can be seen as a result of a lack of an intelligent customer. Some examples:
image-focused (democratic) government that lacks substance and delivery results from a lack of an intelligent customer in the public (voters); sensationalising, press-release-repeating, lack-of-journalistic-integrity media results from a lack of an intelligent customer in the readership; failed government IT schemes result from a lack of an intelligent customer in government; banks exposing themselves to unknown risk in collateralized debt obligations results from a lack of an intelligent customer in banks; society buying speculative advice from economists (who turn out to be wrong) results from a lack of an intelligent customer in society (individuals, government and private organisations).

Saturday, 23 January 2010


Management could be of an inanimate object; leadership must be of people.
You lead by doing the same thing as the people you are leading. A leader of a walk walks at the front. The leader of an army fights from the front.

Government functions

Public service providers
Public service organisers
Regulators/Inspectorates - of private sector, third sector
Regulators/Inspectorates - of government
Policy formation
Tax collectors


Even when we get to a utopia of a fully democratic world government, no countries, no religion, an environmentally sustainable economy, universal education, universal healthcare, universal employment and low wealth inequality, there is no time to rest on our laurels was we must work hard to preserve such a utopian society and to protect humanity from natural disaster (both by making earth more disaster-proof and establishing colonies on other worlds to make humanity less vunerable to an earth-destroying disaster). Whilst there is a level of resource investment in preservation of the utopian society above which the returns of increase resource investment have little impact on risk (some kind of sigmoid curve), the same is not true of protection from natural diaster where the relationship between resource investment and risk reduction is more linear.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Detailed learning material

How much learning material is there that allows someone, who has but a knowledge of a language, time and a moderate intelligence, to become an expect on a subject? My suspicion is that there is very little - learning material is supplemented by teachers (and to an extent co-learners), and hence we are very reliant on teachers for the propagation of knowledge. Can this reliance be reduced or eliminated with well written learning materials?

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Digital toaster

Do you eat toast? Do you share your toaster with anyone else? Do they change the settings? Are you particular about this?

I suggest a digital toaster with a modicum of memory, that can be programmed to remember the toasting-time preferences of several people, and give each person a soft-key with a programmed name. An advanced version would allow the user to set the toasting-time preferences and names using a computer or mobile phone via a bluetooth interface.

Obviously a dial is still required, both to facilitate programming the preferences and allowing manual override for that particularly stale piece of bread.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Tax that goes up in a recession

Recession's are notoriously bad for government finances: as company profit falls, so does tax on profit; as unemployment rises, so does the cost of social security. But there must be some things that government could tax that increase during a recession. For example, people tend to want to hold more cash during a recession. If interest income was taxed higher than other investment income (e.g. dividend income) then tax take would increase during a recession, giving the government the resource to spend on fiscal recovery.

Where is the positive graffiti?

Where is the positive graffiti? Where are the movie posters with scribbled-on comments like "I watched this movie, it was great"? Where are the road signs with scribbled-on comments like "Come visit here, the people are really friendly"?

Monday, 4 January 2010

Organisational/individual performance assessment

Organisational performance assessment is often critised for creating bureaucracy and perverse incentives. I suggest: that performance assessment of individuals is less prone to creating bureaucracy and perverse incentives; and that an organisation in which all the members are performing well is likely to be performing well. Thus, organisation performance assessment can be de-emphasised and individual performance assessment strengthened.

For example, a hospital may have an organisation performance metric of waiting list length. This creates the perverse incentive of not offering treatments to patients to avoid putting them on the waiting list. The appropriate individual performance metrics are for doctors are the number of treatments performed and their quality.

Local government

It seems to me that it would be much more sensible to organise government along service delivery lines rather than having local government responsible for lots of unrelated services. Hence there would be a national waste agency that is responsible for all rubbish collection, a national education agency responsible for all schools, etc.

Informed decision making

There are too many impacts of decisions to make truly informed decisions. It is not possible to have a perfectly informed decision without the decision making process taking too long, being too costly, and being too bureaucratic. In lieu of informed decisions:
  • The decision should be accompanied by a document explaining what potential impacts were considered in making the decision. The decision can then be criticised if a particular type of impact was not considered, and that type of impact then considered in future decision making.
  • There needs to be a set of principals to consider in decision making, including, but not limited to: transparency; etc.
  • The decision should be costed, even if the costing is just a guess. Whilst the decision maker should be required to estimate a cost, they should be entitled to give that cost as a range.
  • Only decisions where the decision maker estimates the cost is above a certain de minimus limit should be subject to the above (otherwise the cost of the decision making process could outweigh the cost of the decision).

Public service performance measurement

There are too many variables to allow for a public service performance measurement system that does not create perverse incentives. There are three variables that should be captured for all public service performance measurement systems:
  • Opinion of the users (patients and relatives for hospitals, students and parents for schools, the unemployed and employers for jobcentres, etc)
  • Opinion of the front line staff (nurses and doctors for hospitals, teachers for schools, jobcentre employees for jobcentres, etc)
  • Costs

Evolution and design in government

Government evolved, it was not designed. This evolution means that whilst it gets the job done, it is not the most efficient way to be. If we make incremental changes (without a coherent plan) we are just continuing that evolution. Therefore I think we should develop a coherent plan for government, and ensure all change in government is consistent with that plan.

You can't win

Positive concept in organisation and management
Negative consequences/perceptions
Economies of scale
Can be considered a one-size-fits-all approach
Joined-up approach
(AKA not working in silos)
Requires coordination, which can be considered a waste of time
Requires data to be collected, which can be seen to be bureaucratic
Holding people to account
Continuous improvement
Can require central high-level (top-down) coordination, which can be considered dictatorial
Can be considered a one-size-fits-all approach

Other factors: top-down vs bottom-up

Are compliments evil?

If you compliment someone to you not contribute to a dream or expectation of theirs that will eventually be painfully shattered?

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Keep your distance behind

There are systems for cars that measure the distance to the car in front and, based on current speed, advise if the stopping distance is insufficient. It is, however, just as dangerous to you if the car behind you in not maintaining its stopping distance. I suggest therefore, a system that measures the distance to the car behind and, if the distance is insufficient, based on current speed, displays the message "Keep your distance!" on a display (e.g. an LED display) in the back window.