Friday, 23 December 2011

Backrub, peer review and impact factor, popular culture - a suggestion for a kudos engine

How do we give kudos on the internet? We can Like. We can put a link to something on our blog or website. We can send an email about to a friend (how old-school!). But this is not enough for me.

It matters to me not just how many Likes something has, but also who did the Liking. This concept is similar to Google's backrub algorithm - it matters the importance of the website that backlinks to the website in question. It's also similar to peer review and impact factors, where it matters who has reviewed, and where something is published.

I can solve this to some extent by following a set of people who have good taste, and tend to do good Liking. But this is a little contrived; not sufficiently organic.

So I propose a kudos engine. This would be an online social network. Any user of the social network would be able to create a unique kind of kudos, and at creation send this to unique online individuals (in the network already, identifiable by email address or another social network identifier) (all would need to be dispersed upon creation - no holding any back). The recipients could then "spend" (i.e. send on) that kudos (although the record of their original receipt would be kept). And so on. And so on.

All sending of kudos would be to an individual in respect of something. The "something" could just be a message from the sender or could point to a particular output of the recipient (an article, a song, a work of art, a project, a product, etc). A keyword cloud for that unique kind of kudos is created around the words associated with the "in respect of"s. So if the kudos was in respect of a song, the keyword cloud would include the name of the song, the name of the band, the genre of the music, etc. These keywords allow other users to find kudos-types of interest to them, which leads them to people, articles, music, art, projects, etc of interest.

The intial creator could set the total number of kudos units of that type at the start (e.g. 100), and could choose to create an inflationary factor (for each recipient, for every x kudos you receive, an additional y is also recieved). This is similar in concept to bitcoin's mining.

It is likely that some kudos-types would sink, and some would swim. If you receive some of a kudos-type that is circulating widely and circulating to people you respect, you know you're doing well!

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Digitising everything

I would like to see digitised as much as possible of human output. There are many ongoing efforts to digitise books, paintings, museum artifacts and buildings. But in addition to this, I would like to see digitisation made available to the people: your local digitisation centre, that has the tools and experience necessary to digitise your objects.

I believe that there are enough unique objects out there and owned by the people that such a digitisation outreach is necessary for us to truely capture the wealth of human output.

Art and low hanging fruit

Are the possibilities for orginal self-expression finite or infinite? If finite, what will it look like as we approach complete exploration of the possibility space? How will we know when we get there?

Perfect-pouring teapot

I am yet to encounter a teapot that pours without dripping (at some level of fullness of the teapot and hence angle). I suspect the reasons these are an engineering challenge have something to do with fluid dynamics, surface tension and potentially the water molecules bonding to the surface.

I watched recently an amazing video from Ross Nanotechnology of the NeverWet superhydrophobic spray-on coating (I would recommend watching the video), and it seems to me that this coating in the spout of the teapot has the potential to prevent dripping problems. As the water would be repelled by the surface, it wouldn't hang around to create a drip.

I hope their spray is suitable for food-preparation uses!

Serrated surface to reduce friction in one direction

I observed the other day that a wet serrated surface significantly reduced friction in one direction. It appears that the serration grooves act as a reservoir for the fluid, ensuring the points of contact between the two surfaces are always separated by the fluid, reducing friction.

The diagram below illustrated (with exaggerated serrations).

Could this observation be put to any use?

Symbol keyboard

I think there is a niche for a touchscreen keyboard that acts as an auxilary to the existing keyboard and displays symbols and characters that are not on the standard keyboard. Being a touchscreen, the symbol keyboard could easily be reprogrammed with different sets of characters that the user needs at their fingertips - a set of shortcut buttons would allow the user to switch between sets of symbols (either predefinied e.g. "maths" or user-defined).

Further thoughts on "Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger"

I've written previously on the quote "whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger", and I have given some further thought to role of suffering in shaping one's personality.

I previously concluded that the quote is misleading, as some suffering will weaken you. But I am also convinced that suffering is an important part of learning and development. In the physical domain, we improve our physical strength and stamina via repeated exposure to painful training, and we improve our skill through practise that can be both physically and mentally draining. Similarly, our mental faculties improve through practise, which is often taxing.

That suffering is essential, and that too much is detrimental, suggests there is an optimum. And hence a question of fundamental importance: what is the optimal level of suffering? I strongly suspect that the optimum will vary significantly from person to person, and throughout each person's lifetime. So we should ask ourselves the question: are we at the optimum level of suffering for growth without detriment?

There are some complications: answering that question is difficult - as both measuring the level of suffering, and measuring the potential for detriment, are inexact; and because in an unforgiving society we cannot push ourselves to the limits as we cannot afford to fall over. We have to keep a safety margin between ourselves and the optimum. Alone we cannot push ourselves to our true limit, because there is no-one there to catch us when we fall over.

Which brings us back to the importance of a teacher, one that both imparts information, and pushes the student to deliver. When I try to imagine an environment of a teacher that really pushes students, I am reminded of some of the stereotyped images of military training, where the drill instructor pushes recruits to the limits, whilst trying not to push them to far (a la "Pyle" in Full Metal Jacket). I am also reminded of the scene from V for Vendetta where V imprisons Evey until she is free of fear.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

It's all about... measurement

Measurement (and the difficulty in doing so).

Rulers and weights work, but for measuring human output, the yardstick has too many variables for us to comprehend.

Improving corporate directories

One of the biggest challenges in a modern organisation is getting the information you need. And often that information relies on talking to the right person.

Most of the time, the people you already know can point you to the person who knows what you need to know, but this isn't always the case. And so corporate directories are an essential tool in a modern organisation.

And yet those I've seen are often missing a trick.

No corporate directory I've seen includes database history (i.e. previous appointments/structure, with dates). This is particularly important in the fast changing world, when you want to find out who was working on a particular task last year.

Typically there is insufficient information on what people do (sometimes even their job title is omitted), their responsibilities and how their team relates to the other teams within the organisation.

And a good quality organogram generator wouldn't go amiss...

Self-perpetuating change

I was in a meeting with senior management the other day. People were airing problems and discussing solutions; the most senior manager was handing out action points like candy.

All of the problems discussed were genuine, and all of the solutions and actions proposed were rational responses. But all of the solutions and actions were those likely to fade with time. They would be successful whilst on the priority list, but would no doubt succumb to other initiatives in the future.
It strikes me that what management (and in particular senior management) should be looking for is to make change that is self-perpetuating. That will continue to change the business without their sponsorship.

What does self-perpetuating change look like? Wikipedia is probably the best current example. Wikipedia will continue to improve itself, to change the world, and to inspire other transformational projects without the sponsorship of Jimmy Wales.

What are the characteristics of self-perpetuating change? I think that at least part of it is to create something that benefits a significant number of people, creating a demand that will no go away.

Extracting the stylistic elements from anything

I just posted about the identification of repeating elements from documents, particularly maps, to be able to apply the stylistic quality of that document to other documents. I mentioned some other types of document that this could be applicable to, but the more I think of it, the more it seems to me that this concept can be applied much more widely. As long as we have a way to structure the information we are getting.

I would be as bold as to say we can capture the stylistic quality of any human output, and be able to use that style for future output. And what is most interesting is that information technology gives us the power to extract, store and apply that stylistic data. And thereby give any untalented individual the ability to produce something in the style of an existing human output.

Let's take some examples:

Visual art - extract the style of how people, food, a room and a table look from Michelangelo's The Last Supper, and allow people to produce works of art in that style

The written word - extract the writing style of Shakespeare from across his plays (his vocabulary, sentence order, etc), and provide translation software from modern English into "how Shakespeare would have written it"

A voice - extract the accent of JFK's voice from his speeches, and apply to any written text with voice synthesis. A further possibility (and complication) would be to combine that with generated video of JFK. This method will allow deceased actors to continue to act after they are dead.

Another interesting aspect of being able to extract that stylistic information is the possibility of hybridising (multiple) styles, mutating styles, and applying iterative artificial selection to styles.

Identification of repeating elements from documents

I was looking at some old maps today. Old maps are so beautiful. Have modern map makers no taste? No pictures of mythical sea monsters, no ornate compass roses, no helpful comments such as "here be dragons".

So this got me thinking: wouldn't it be great to extract from old maps the fonts, and styles, etc (the repeating elements), and apply these styles to the data underlying modern maps (imagine Google Maps in medieval style!). It would be useful to have some software to help automate this, but I suspect it would need significant human supervision.

This concept is expandable to other diagrams that have repeating elements. The most obvious of this is generating fonts from the writing of old books - and not necessarily just the printed ones - e.g. a font based on the handwriting of 15th century monks. There are other old documents/images with repeating elements e.g. building/engineering plans.

An interesting artistic use of this would be randomly generated maps, using the old styles, as image content for digital wallpaper.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Leaves as a substrate for 3D printing?

Around this time of year (in the temperate regions of the northern hemisphere), one thing we have in surplus is leaves. They are everywhere.

Could we make better use of them? Could they be used as a substrate for 3D printing (once ground down, and combined with some kind of gluing agent)?

Automated kitchen

I tend to keep half of a half-open eye on what's going on in the world of robotics, and despite some pretty amazing robots, it seems unlikely that I'm going to have, any time soon, an affordable kitchen robot that'll make me dinner.

Given that the kitchen robot is a way off, why hasn't more simply forms of kitchen automation taken off?

For example, consider an integrated freezer and microwave/oven. Pre-prepared meals in standardised containers are inserted by the users into slots in the freezer. Based on a timer or input via the internet (e.g. from a smartphone), the meal is removed from the freezer and into the oven.

This is fully do-able with existing technology. Is it commercially viable? Such a device would cost more than a separate microwave/oven and freezer, partly due to the need to connect to the internet (e.g. via wifi) and have a controller. However, it could be sold at a loss, as the set size of the containers would lock-in customers wishing to buy pre-prepared meals.

It should

Friday, 7 October 2011

Bird feeder style wardrobe/drawers

Have you ever found yourself using the same clothes over and over because their wash/use cycle results in them being at the top of the drawer?

Would it be possible to design a wardrobe/drawers systems based on a bird feeder such that clean clothes are input at the top, and the wearer takes the next item from the bottom?

This would also help with those "what to wear?" descisions (but probably wouldn't work so well with clothes prone to creasing).

Urine and stool analysis

We are heading for a future of biosensor, everywhere. Measuring heart rate, blood pressure, blood solute (e.g. glucose, hormone) concentrations, temperature, brain activity, etc.

In addition to those sensors that are on or in the body, it would make sense to build measurement of urine and faeces into toilets and urinals.

The obstacles that would need to be overcome include:
  • Cost of installation (and consumables)
  • Cross-contamination of one sample to the next
  • Dilution of urine samples in the toilet bowl
  • Transmitting the data securely to the correct person

Loss of empathy

Is there a demonstrable link between suffering and loss of empathy?

AI inner monologue

In many a science fiction future there's an intelligent computer that dialogues with the human characters, providing them advice and challenge. Would it be possible to have this input as an inner monologue? You inner monologue would become a dialogue between you and your AI assistant. How would such a thing work? I haven't a clue, we'd need an incredibly good understanding of the brain to start inputting to the inner monologue.

But the impact would be enormous. The AI assistant could help with memory ("your car keys are under the sofa cushion"), moral decisions, finding out information, highlighting where you have fallen for logical fallacies, etc.


"Disappointed" is a powerful word in the English language. It provides direct and powerful critique whilst expressing little arrogance. It communicates that the speaker is experiencing sadness, unlike other forms of criticism that communicate that the speaker is experiencing anger.

The only problem is, there aren't many good synonyms. Here's the best I could come up with:
  • perplexed
  • baffled
  • peturbed
  • dismayed
  • distressed

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Organising the world's problems

Necessity is the mother of all inventions.

I suspect there is a lot of truth in that phrase. And that in many cases problems sit at the back of inventive minds, waiting for eureka moments.

It is important for inventive minds (which I believe all minds have the capability to be) to be aware of the worlds problems. Of which there are many.

How can we ensure the awareness of those problems? The biggest challenges are often discussed in the media, for example reliance on fossil fuels and anthropogenic climate change. But not all problems are promulgated in this fashion.

I propose an online project for listing, describing, categorising (hierarchical tagging), prioritising and structuring the world's problems. If such a project could harness the community spirit of wikipedia and crowdsourcing techniques, and I believe it would be a valuable resource for inventive minds.

I believe that one of the greatest challenges of the current era is in maximising the capability of the human mind. Through education, through tools that compensate for the mind's deficiencies, and eventually through medical and biotechnological techniques.

An afterthought: if invention is driven by necessity, perhaps art can be described as inventiveness that is not driven by necessity.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Seasonal affective disorder double peak

Could seasonal affective disorder be caused not just by length of day (and hence the amount of light received), but also rate of change in length of day. This would generate a double peak in the systems on an annual graph, one at the winter solstice, one at the autumn equinox. If this was the case, the extent to which these two causal variables stimulate the effect would no doubt vary from person to person. And understanding this would be helpful in treatment.

The rate of change in length of day stimulus would be a logical one to have evolved, as it would stimulate earlier preparations for winter than a short day stimulus.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Clip-on air-flow base for laptops

According to a fair number of articles on the internet, using a laptop on your lap (as the name suggests) may impact male fertility, due to the heat given out by the laptop. The advice suggested is to use a cooler pad, which sits between the laptop and the lap. But if you've ever tried using one of these, you will quickly notice the inconvenience - when you want to lift the laptop off, you need to lift both the laptop and the cooler pad.

I suggest a clip-on air flow base as an optional extra to laptops. It allows the laptop to be further away from the lap helping to reduce potential fertility issues, and due to it clipping on to the laptop, does not create any inconvenience associated with having multiple things balanced on your lap.

Musical instruments that don't forget what you've played

If you're a musician, you'll probably have experienced a situation where you've played a tune (perhaps without thinking about it) and then think "that was cool". And then, moments later, you can't remember it. The moment of creativity is lost to time.

But this problem can be solved. We need musical instruments that remember every note. Consisting of a movement sensor to activate recording, a microphone (and potentially other sensors), an interface (USB/Wifi/Bluetooth) and perhaps music recognition capability to turn the recording into midi, sheet music or tablature. All powered by a long life battery (or perhaps piezoelectrics? or solar panels? or a kinetic energy collecting?).

As to those other sensors? Perhaps pressure sensors in the keys or fingerboards?

In addition to helping you to remember that cool little tune you just played, having a recording of everything you've every played would be useful in tracking how much you're practising, what you're practising, and how you're improving.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Everything in mandays

The cost of goods reflects supply and demand as much as the underlying resource consumption, and hence can be a misleading way of thinking about value. Would it be possible to measure everything in mandays?

One day's work of an untrained person with no tools represents one unit. For trained people, the number of days training need to be factored in (apportioned over the working life). For people working with tools, the cost of the tool (again in mandays) would need to be factored in (again apportioned over the working life of the tool).

Using such an approach to measure value would be horrendously complicated for all but the most simple of economies, but it is an interesting line of thinking.

Perhaps one weakness is to know how far back to count the mandays. For example, for trained workers should the mandays of the teacher be counted? And if so, how about the teacher's teacher? And the teacher's teacher's teacher? Etc.

Life audit

Is there a market for a service that audits your life, including your health, your diet, your hobbies, your relationships, your habits, your possessions, your plans, your dreams, etc, and provides you with an opinion on what's good, and what you should change? A holistic self-help (with the self).

How to remind yourself of things

Say you set yourself a resolution, perhaps to lose weight or to remember to smile. Half of the challenge is remembering to do so. How can you remind yourself? You could put up a sign. But we get desensitised to signs fairly quickly. You could set up a reminder email. But you probably get desensitised to that fairly quickly too.

What is needed is a system that has access to as many of your communication channels as possible, and uses those channels, at random, to remind you of the message.

  • email
  • text message
  • notice board
  • Twitter/Facebook (perhaps just add an entry into your feed)
  • alarm clock sound (with recorded message)
  • billboards (customised billboards are probably coming anyway)
  • ads on web pages you visit
  • post
  • phone call (with recorded message)
  • RSS reader
  • car dash board (not whilst driving)

Judging people's actions based on response from victim

It seems to me that we subjectively judge to seriousness of a person's actions (e.g. criminal, bullying, etc) by the response from the victim. If the victim exhibits a stoical response, we judge the actions less harshly; if the victim exhibits a strong emotional response, we judge the actions more harshly (unless excessive, when we begin to question victim).

It would be interesting to conduct a psycological experiment to prove this point (if it hasn't already been done  - too lazy to search). The results would perhaps cast some light on the reliability of our judicial system.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

The importance of backlinks

Backlinks aren't just important for Google in working out how important a web page is, they are also helpful for taking us from the generic to the specific. For example, strategy is a generic topic, Sun Tzu is a specific topic. If we're talking about strategy we might touch on Sun Tzu, but if we're talking about Sun Tzu, we're much more likely to talk about strategy.

Why's it important to be able to get from generics to specifics? Many reasons: it's often a good way to explore a subject in more detail; it gives us examples to use; and it allows us to identify ways of hinting at something. We can hint at strategy by mentioning Sun Tzu.

This hinting is an important tool in rhetoric, as it forces the recipient of the communication to do some work (to think what the connection is), which engages them in it, making it more persuasive.

Post-materialistic, still focused on status

Is early 21st Century Western society materialistic? Do people still conspicuously consume to acquire status? I would suggest that status is less driven by assets than it used to be, and is more driven by achievements and anecdotes. Status is conferred on people who can say "I was there", "I've done that", "I've met X", etc.

Innovation destroys value

Innovation destroys value by making existing assets obsolete.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Augmented reality computer games

Some thoughts on augmented reality computer games, by type:

First person shooter

Perhaps the easiest to envisage, you want down a real street, but see virtual enemies that you can shoot with a virtual weapon (although you might actually hold a controller or dummy weapon in your hand). You might be able to shoot real people too (even if they're not playing the game).

Real time strategy

You are in the thick of a war. You see all the units you command around you, and the enemies in the distance. You order where your units go, and what they should attack. Ideally the computer would recognise verbal instructions, but the game might be augmented by head-up display that shows you a map of the area and where you units are deployed, allowing you to move them about as needs be.

As the physical presence of the person in not necessarily part of the game, it would be possible to have the game on different scales, for example a game with toy-soldier sized units on the living room floor.


The real-world economy becomes your virtual playground. You can virtually own businesses that exist in real life.

Role playing

As with the first person shooter, but with more depth. Wielding a sword (even if plastic) whilst walking down the street may get some unwarranted interest, however. And there is the issue that you cannot "level-up" your physical self as easily (although the power of your weapons and spells would be in the virtual world and therefore able to increase in power).


Turn any surface into a platform game using edge detection. The player control an avatar running, jumping and fighting along that surface.

A layered approach to city design

Cities, particularly those that have evolved over centuries (and millenia in some cases) tend not to make very efficient use of space. A significant proportion of the land area is taken up with streets, but these are only used at one or two levels (transport and utilities). Meanwhile the buildings next to them make much better use of space, rising the three dimensions.

Another problem is that the streets (despite taking up so much space) aren't actually sufficient for the needs, and are resultingly clogged with traffic. Many utilities (water, gas, electric, communications, sewage) can only be accessed/maintained by digging up roads, which further impacts on traffic issues.

So how would you go about designing a city from scratch? A layered approach, with three main layers:
  • Utilities layer
  • Transportation layer
  • Habitation/work/recreation layer
The utilities layer would need to be fully accessible/maintainable without disruption to the other layers. The transportation layer interfaces to the other two layers (allowing access to the utilities layer) and allowing the transport of people and goods between particular point on the habitation/work/recreation layer.

The habitation/work/recreation layer is where people would spend most of their time.

The layers can consist of several levels. This facilitates water being separated from electricitiy in the utilities layer (generally a wise choice). The habitation/work/recreation layer has multiple levels just like our current high-rise buildings.

A key element of the layer principle is that only the habitation/work/recreation layer requires access to sunlight. The entire transportation layer should be underground. This makes much more efficient use of space. However, it does not mean that buildings can be packed that much more tightly, as this would mean that sunlight does not penetrate to their lower floors. Instead, the spaces between buildings are maintained by using the spaces between them for recreational space: parks; football pitches; golf courses; tennis courts; etc.

A similar approach should be taken within the buildings themselves, which the less natural-light-dependent functions, or those used infrequently, taking up the space furthest from the windows.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Everything in one place

I was searching my Gmail today for message I'd received and couldn't find it. It turned out the message had been received as a text message to my phone, so I was looking in the wrong place. This highlights the need for further integration of information and communications technologies. I need everything in one place. Everything. Absolutely everything. The personal digital life aggregator.

And I need to be able to search it.

This includes:
  • documents (the kind we typically have stored on our hard drives, but soon to be stored in the cloud) (text, image, sound, video, etc)
  • emails
  • calendar
  • voicemails (with transcription)
  • text messages
  • blog posts
  • forum posts
  • data from apps on my phone (e.g. my to do list)
  • rss feeds
  • articles I've read
  • web favorites/bookmarks
  • bank statements, bills, pension, investments, etc
The key barriers to the everything in one place dream are:
  • company security policies will prevent your content from work being in your personal "one place"
  • closed online systems that don't allow a metasystem to pull it all together
  • content that's not owned by one person (e.g. a photo taken by one person, but tagged by another; or a collaboratively produced presentation)


What do we measure people on? Productivity.

Productivity = volume x quality

Quality includes workmanship, skill involved, originality and usefulness. For some professions quality, in particular originality, is much more important that volume (for example being an artist, an inventor, an entrepreneur). For others, the scope for quality variation is lower, the focus on volume is higher (for example being a factory worker).

The most celebrated people are those whose productivity is derived from quality not volume. However, most people's productivity stems from volume.

Touchcard doors - being locked out

One factor that has concerned me about the potential switch away from keys to touchcards for residential properties is the possibility of being locked out if the power goes down. The obvious solution to this is a backup battery, which should definitely be a feature. And of course if you have a backup battery, you need to check it on a routine basis to ensure it's holding charge.

But what if your backup battery does fail? I think it would be useful to have an external "power in" socket to allow you to get your touchcard door working again without having to break down the door to sort out the power problems.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Technologies' long tail to death

I was reading a futurology article today and I was surprised by the predictions of the last this and the last that. The futurists seemed to think that technologies die out very quickly when an alternative becomes available. The evidence suggests a long tail: Western Union sent its last telegram in 2006 dispite being superseded by phones; payphones are still in use despite being superseded by cell phones.

In many cases, technologies that are superceded gain cultural status by being niche and retro. The impact is that the future will look like today+ rather than a complete ground-up recreation.

Incidentally, it would be very interesting to see a graph of telegram usage over time.

Thursday, 21 July 2011


If we don't have a society that can tolerate failure, citizens cannot push themselves to their limits, as pushing yourself to your limits will result in occasional failure.

We need "sandboxes" in our society where people can push themselves (or allow themselves to be pushed), without fear of punishment for failure.

Beyond 3D printing

3D printing is all well and good, but it is unlikely to be able to make anything. So really it is just one tool of the future fully automated manufacturing process that is truely capable of creating anything we can design, a system where we input a design and raw materials, and the finished product pops out of the other end. The key advantage of 3D printing as a tool of the fully automated manufacturing process is that it allows components to be made without the need for moulds, which reduces the waste in the manufacture of one-off designs (the waste of a mould is minimal where a mould is used many times).

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Tablets etc

Having previously suggested the possibility of docking your smartphone into a tablet, I now am unsure about this as an idea. To take calls quickly, the ability to answer on the smartphone and hold the smartphone to your ear is too important.

So instead of convergence, what do we actually need? This depends very much on the situation. A few key situations:
  • Permanent desk
  • Hot desk
  • Improvised desk (i.e. just a table)
  • Meeting room
  • Train/Plane
Permanent/hot desk

For a permanent desk, you need:
  • A large screen (or two, three, etc)
  • A wireless mouse
  • A wireless keyboard
  • A tablet (for handwriting entry)
  • A wireless headset (with cradle)
For example, a call comes in on the computer – you answer by pressing the answer button on the headset. Midway through the call you can transfer it across to your smartphone so that you can continue talking as you walk to your next meeting.

Improvised desk

The mobile worker having a teleconference at an improvised desk needs:
  • A wireless headset (mic + headphones)
  • A wireless mouse
  • A tablet (for handwriting notes)
  • A screen (to see a presentation or for the video element of a video call)
  • Perhaps a keyboard (for text entry)
So they need two tablets (that can dock into each other), a keyboard that can dock to the tablets (or be used wirelessly), a headset (wireless, with wired backup option), a smartphone, a stand for the screen (or a built in screen), a projector (for dealing with meeting rooms without screens)

It would be idea to have the tablets able to dock on both horizontal and vertical axis. You might use the docking on the short axis when the device (it's not a laptop after all!) is perched on your knee.

It would be useful to have a telescopic screen-to-base link. This would allow the screen to be at an optimum height when taking that impromptu teleconference.


The seats in planes could have hooks so that the screen could be held up, whilst the keyboard remains on the tray table or lap.

Meeting rooms
  • A very large screen on the wall
  • A wireless mouse
  • A mic on the desk (for conference calls)

Better belt buckle

Web belts have one fixing for the belt on each side of the belt. The disadvantage of this design is that the fixing for the belt on the side nearest the body presses into the skin and can be uncomfortable. It's fairly simple to have a design where both fixing are on the far side, and the side of the buckle against the skin is smooth. The diagram below illustrates:

Information retention, virtualisation and software as a service

I was reading recently about the challenges of information retention for digital records, where the software and hardware necessary to access the records needs to be retained in addition to the digital records, or the digital records be converted to a more current format.

I suspect this problem may be addressed by virtualisation. It should be possible to virtualise every computer system, and every piece of software. This would eliminate the need to retain the necessary hardware and software, or to convert the records.

I would like to see a future where every piece of software ever written can be virtualised and accessed by any person over the internet.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Management terminology

Management terminology (jargon) gets a hard time, perhaps deservedly so. There seem to be plenty of websites explaining the terminology and criticising it, but few that provide a well-reasoned critique on a term-by-term basis including: what the term means (definition); where it came from (etymology); what it can be substituted with (synonyms); the advantages and disadvantages of its existence and use. I'd quite like such a site to be similar to Urban Dictionary in style, allowing submission and rating of the content by the users.

My favorite management term of the day: the art of the possible. Context: "It's all about the art of the possible".

Coolness of numbers and letters

I've written previously on the coolness of words, but it seems to me that a social pecking order exists for letters and numbers as well. K is definitely cooler than L. X, Y and Z hanging out at the back of the class rule the roost. And for numbers? I'm fairly confident that 13 has one up on 14.

Where's the objective data?

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Split screen video camera

Wouldn't it be good to have split screen home videos showing footage of a particular event from more than one angle? Wouldn't it be good to have split screen home videos without having to do all the video editing to align the multiple recordings? Would it be possible to have a video camera that saves aligned video from more than one camera simultaneously, where the cameras are connected by wires or wireless connection? Wouldn't it be good when viewing back to be able to dynamically choose how the different images are displayed (e.g. one main with two subsidiary, four equal sized elements, etc), for example being able to click on a video and make it the main one?

In-building triangulation

I was just thinking about in-building triangulation in respect of tracking inventory in second hand shops, but come to think of it, where is in-building triangulation? Outside I can easily obtain my position through GPS, but I want to be able to do this in a building, to a resolution of 0.1m and including the floor of the building I am on. Would it be possible to triangulate using wifi routers?

Second hand shops

Second hand shops are more challenging to run than normal shops in terms of pricing and inventory management due to the large range of unique items. They have an important place in the waste hierarchy (reduce, reuse, recycle) so it is important that their operation is optimised. How can technology help?
  • Tagging items allows them to be tracked, so it is possible to see how long they've been in inventory
  • RFID tags, together with a set of sensors would allow triangulation of the object in the shop. The triangulation (or perhaps gyroscopic sensors in the tag) would allow gauging of shopper interest (has the object been tried on?). This will help determine whether the lack of sale is due to lack of shopper interest or incorrect pricing.
  • Tagging also aids security, as sensors at the door detect stolen items.
  • It might also be possible to introduce eye tracking, and motion/location tracking of shoppers, again providing more data on shoppers to help promote sales
  • Object recognition (initially through barcodes, but increasingly through machine vision) will enable quick entry of items into the inventory, and simultaneous automated advertising online

Don't walk on the grass

It seems that people don't pay attention to "Don't walk on the grass" signs. Public spaces seem perpetually eroded by people too lazy and inconsiderate to walk on the provided paths. Public money is wasted returfing on a regular basis. And it seems to me that insufficient is done to prevent the erosion in the first place (other than the ignored "Don't walk on the grass" signs of course).

There must be a few available solutions, perhaps a breed of grass that is more resistant to trampling?

I also think it would be sensible to protect the edges of the grass (next to paths) as this is where erosion is most likely to occur. A 10cm high board along the edges of the path would adequately protect the immediate edge. Where people step over the edge protection, the erosion will be less significant as the grass can regrow from both sides.

I also wonder how effective it is to put down a rubber mesh where erosion is likely to occur. This allows the grass to grow through the holes, but prevents the damage from footfalls.

Listening in

I would be interested in having a computer that listens in to my conversation, and pulls up relevant information. I think this is possible (at least a simple version) with existing technology. For example, the voice recognition software returns a string data set, which is analysed for key words and phrases. These could for example be used to return wikipedia articles. This could probably be built into the browser.

The advantage of this technology is that the conversation is not interrupted by having to search for the information being discussed, as the computer has already brought to the fore the relevant pages.

Say for example you are having a conversation about the relative population sizes of China and India, and whether India's population will exceed China's in time. The browser could load several tabs, one on China, one on India, one of population, one on population growth, etc.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

3D printing using electroplating

Would it be possible to 3D print using electroplating by using a mobile electrode that was insulated other than at its tip, such that the tip is the print head of the 3D printer?

Polytunnel in the desert

If you were to cover an area of desert with polytunnels, would the reduced water loss be enough to de-desertify the desert, and if so, how long would it take?

I would hope that the area would undergoe ecological succession, beginning with cacti, but progressing to more economically useful species, whilst developing a richer soil.

Additive manufacturing using household waste

I've been thinking a lot lately about how consumers could make use of their household waste in additive manufacturing. I've posted previously on 3D printing using waste paper, but I'm also interested in other materials. Those I've been thinking about include aluminium cans, tin cans (which are tin-plated steel) and thermoplastics. My first thought was that the challenge would be getting the necessary temperature, but Markus Kayser's SolarSinter project, suggests that this is not really a problem (at least in sunny places). The remaining challenge is granularizing the waste material to be used for the sintering. This is less of a problem with the thermoplastics - they would probably succumb to a househouse paper shredder (although that wouldn't be sufficiently granular).

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Traffic lights: how many are there; and how lucky have I been?

Often when driving, particularly when driving a route I do often, I wonder how many traffic lights there are on the route, and how lucky I have been (how many of them I have had to wait at, and how long I have had to wait at traffic lights in total). Obviously the latter is indicated by journey time, but I want more data than that.

Obviously, I could manually note down each traffic light on the route, and the length of time I've had to wait at it, but where would be the fun in that. I want an automated solution. The combination of GPS, clock and map data.

When planning the route on Google Maps before the journey, I'd like data on how many traffic lights there are for that journey.

When I finish a journey, I'd like a message on my dashboard saying "There were X traffic lights on that journey, at which you had to wait at Y, for Z minutes in total".

GuilTea pleasures

I was thinking today about a brand for snacks: GuilTea pleasures. Perhaps with the taglines: treat yourself; treats for tea; biscuits for tea; teatime treats; treats to have with tea.

Cool times

I have a 24h digital clock with a 4 digit 7 segment display. I can't help but notice that some of the times on this clock are "cooler" than others. I seemed to come across these numbers more often than I expected (given that there are 1440 hour minute combinations each day) (probably an example of confimration bias). Some examples:

Symmetry around the colon

Symmetry around the colon (taking into account that 2s are the mirror image of 5s)

Sequential up (each digit)

Sequential up (hours, then minutes)

Sequential down (hours, then minutes)

Hours = minutes

Minutes = Hours x 2

Hours = Minutes x 2

There are also a few specials:

00:12    Weak sequential
00:42    Answer to life the universe and everything
03:14    Pi
09:50    Ten to ten
10:10    Ten past ten
16:18    Golden ratio
21:50    Ten to ten
22:10    Ten past ten

In conclusion, I think the reason for my observation reflects when I typically go to bed:

An idea coming from this: a 24h digital clock with a 4 digit 7 segment display that displays the "cool" numbers in a different colour.

(N.B. 121 cool numbers identified using the above rules)

Sunday, 19 June 2011

It's all about...

Judgement, and having the right framework for judging against.

Alternating stripes

It's not often that I venture into fashion design with me thinking, but here goes. I understand that vertical stripes decrease the perception of width, whilst horizontal stripes increase it. There is a fashionable optimum for the shape of a woman's body (the coke bottle shape), which emphasises the hips and  breasts. I wonder whether it would be possible to emphasize this with stripe: vertical around shoulders, horizontal around the breasts, vertical around the waist, horizontal around the hips and bottom. Similarly, the fashionable optimum for men is broad shoulders, but a narrow waist. Would it be possible to emphasize this with horizontal stripes for the shoulder and chest, vertical stripes for the waist.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Tax debt shield

Why do companies use debt as a form of financing? Partly because it's tax-efficient: interest is tax deductable. The tax rules encourage companies to use debt. But debt is bad for companies as it can be called in forcing the company into liquidation. By making interest not tax deductable we can make companies, and hence our economy, more stable, as they will be incentivised to use less debt. This will also reduce the value of cash, encouraging more individuals to invest in shares.

Sentry guns on aircraft

Why don't military aircraft have sentry guns (autonomous sensor-guided guns) to fire at incoming missiles and attacking aircraft? Applying such weapons to aircraft (as opposed to ground vehicles) would be fairly low risk of friendly fire as they would only be turned on when the aircraft was operating independently. It would be possible to add several sentry guns to an aircraft to cover all angles. One might imagine that this would be particularly useful for UAVs, which may not be able to replicate human dogfighting abilities for some time. The technology certainly exists.

Sunday, 5 June 2011


When an entity has the word "united" in its title, this implies to me that it is less united than entities without the word. The United States of America, the United Kingdom, the European Union, the United Nations. All of these are less united than entities that do not have the word, for example, China. The concept of a union acknowledges and perpetuates differences, whereas adopting a name without such a word will encourage identification with that name, and thereby overcome differences.

An interview question for competency-based HR people

Tell me about a time when you realised that competency-based interviews were an ineffective form of assessment.

What was the impact of that realisation?

Random generation

Why isn't it everywhere? I've talked about biomorphs before, but even without the complicating factor of artificial selection, random generation is very useful. Take, for example, computer games. There are very few computer games, typically the storyline intensive ones, where random generation of levels would not be an added extra for players. Particularly where there's the ability to save and share a randomly generated one that you've tried with other players. Adding random generating extends the playability, making a great game into a classic.

Running away

You live to run away another day.

It's all about...

Giving up. And then getting going again.

(with the exception of relationships, where you have to respect a person's right to not want to engage with you)

Everything happens for a reason

I've heard this said. Often when the proverbial has hit the fan. But such a short, flippant statement has significant implications: destiny or some kind creator/overseer; lack of free will. So I don't buy it.

What is a useful alternative? Slightly more verbose, but how about:

You cannot know the counterfactual of any outcome, therefore it is impossible to form a firm judgement of whether the outcome is good or bad.


Say you're developing a website with information on a particular subject. The website is expanded and updated bit by bit. For the user tracking the website, seeing all of the changes and new material would require going through every page, unless changes/additions are highlighted on a blog. The problem is that such a blog requires more effort from the creator. So would it be possible to autoblog the changes? Changing typos and formatting probably important enough to capture, but new pages, or significant additons/removals to a page should automatically be blogged (with a link to the page).

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Website (or IT) to facilitate asset sharing

Airbnb for spare rooms. RelayRides and Getaround for cars. What other assets to we own that we'd be happy to rent out? What other assets do we own that are so expensive that other people would rent rather than buy? What other assets do we own that someone else doesn't have the space to store? What other assets do we own that someone else doesn't have with them because they're travelling?
  • Garden/Home improvement tools - lawnmower; chainsaw; hedge trimmer
  • Camping equipment
  • Yachts, boats, canoes
  • Trailers
  • Bikes
  • Motorbikes
  • Computers
  • Any hobby-related kit
  • Workshop space (and tools)
  • Garages
The role of IT/website/smartphones: connecting people. People list what they have for rent; other people search to find what they want to rent.

Robot to automatically wind clocks

Wind up clocks need to be regularly wound to keep the mechanism in good order. If you own a fair number of such clocks, I imagine winding them up could become a chore.

I would guess that winding would be an easy job for a robot, particularly if permanently connected (perhaps via a rubber grip) in an asthetically neutral manner. The robot may need a few sensors: to prevent overwinding (measuring torque); and to rewind at the right time (perhaps measuring the vibrations of each tick and determining when the mechanism is loosing power - or more simply, just rewinding after a set period of time).

It may be best to house both the clock and the robot in an asthetically neutral glass case.

The coolness of words

Life isn't fair for words: some are just cooler than others. It occurs to me that it would be useful in marketing to have some solid data on what words are cooler than others.

Google isn't a lot of help. Here are some hit returns from Google (I'll leave it up to you to decide which is the cooler):

Accountant 55.9m
Astronaut 22.7m

Tax 735m
Cash 639m

Sword 124m
Lightsaber 5.6m

How to get this data? Perhap look at the frequency of the word's use on sites focused on entertainment rather than those focused on business (and other serious endeavours)? Or perhaps look at the word's frequency on Twitter (likely to be more "cool" than business)?

Also, it would be useful to assess phrases or word combinations, e.g. "mission accomplished".

...and on the pirate vs ninja debate:

Pirate 112m
Ninja 253m....

Saturday, 21 May 2011

How search engines prioritise results

I've been doing something thinking, and some research, on how search engines prioritise results. Some known data sources:

  • PageRank - the number of links to a particular page (and the authority of each of those links)
  • The searcher's previous search history
  • What previous searchers have clicked on in response to the same or similar search
  • Trend info (perhaps from Twitter)
  • The searcher's location (as indicated by the IP address)
  • Other data on the searcher
A couple of areas that I don't know if search engines use (but would be interested to find out) are:

  • time of year (for example, when searching for "tree" around Christmas, are you more likely to be shown results for Christmas trees, and if so, is it the time of year that is taken into account or just the trending information mentioned above)
  • time of day
  • what previous searchers of the same location have clicked on in response to the same or similar search

Hare and tortoise evolutionary mechanism

Is there an evolved hare and tortoise mechanism, whereby winners relax once winning and lose their competitive advantage? This could perhaps be some form of group selection, whereby the group is favored by a winner not continuing to assert dominance over the group.

Column and row hiding and unhiding

Spreadsheet and other software tools' functionality for hiding and unhiding columns and rows of tables is lacking. In particular, where several columns are hidden together and you need to unhide one of them - you have to unhide the lot, and then re-hide the ones you want hidden. What is needed is a list of columns (with the top row as the name) allowing you to tick which to see and which not to.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Further thoughts on DIY/hardware stores

As previously discussed, I believe there is potential for DIY/hardware stores to extend their support for the DIY community ourside the core arena of home improvement (particularly in the area of providing workshop space, but also in their product offering).

The other possible area of extension is to extend their coverage of the home improvement market by offering greater home improvement services. This could range from maintenance (e.g. plumbing), through small home improvement (e.g. painting/decorating, odd jobs), to building extensions.

The advantage for the DIY/hardware store is increased (and diversified) revenue, and promotion of their brand outside the DIY community. Additionally, as the DIY/hardware store already buys materials and tools in bulk, the cost discounts are already in place. The benefit to the consumer is a one-stop-shop for home improvement, and the reliability/quality-control that would necessarily come from a high-brand-value DIY/hardware store.

The role for DIY stores in the next industrial revolution

As the maker culture goes mainstream there is an opportunity for DIY/hardware and tool rental stores to expand their offering. In particular, by housing workshops that give consumers access to manufacturing equipment that they could not afford to buy, and would not have the home workshop space to house.

Obviously, due to the danger involved in operating equipment, access would need to be controlled (by membership) and training given. The hardware store would need to employ staff to supervise (and support customers). Some level of charging would probably have to apply in order to make it economic.

The kind of equipment that the workshop would house would range from standard workshop kit such as band saws, sanding machines, vacuum forming machines, welding kit, drill presses, lathes, etc to more exotic tools such as CNC routers and 3D printers.

The obvious benefit from the hardware store is that when their customers come in to use the workshop, they will likely buy materials and smaller equipment from the store.

DIY/hardware and tool rental stores also need to expand beyond their current offering, focused on home improvement and gardening, to being part of all home (and community, cottage industry and small business) hardware projects. Perhaps longterm there is even room for them in the software arena, as they support their customers with software for their hardware projects.

Note: whilst some commentators have suggested a future with 3D printers in every home, I doubt this model as the level of use will not justify the cost. Having 3D printers in every shop, however, might well happen.

Chalk printer

Restaurants, pubs and bars are still making good use of that old fashioned technology: blackboards and chalk. I was thinking about how it might be possible to "print" onto a blackboard using chalk.

The setup would probably be a flatbed printer, with a printing mechanism like the felt tip printer. Obviously a large flatbed would be ideal to account for different sizes of chalk boards.

Colour could either be delivered using different coloured chalks, or perhaps through combinations of primary colours (or would it be CMY?).

The advantages of this is are: the reusability - a display that can be wiped clean and reused; the end product is cheap enought to be left outside (unlike LCDs or eInk displays); the display doesn't require power; easier to produce high impact designs over hand drawing (for those without such a skills set).

Quietening trains

Trains are pretty noisy. Is noone doing anything about this? How about rubber plates on the face of the wheels? Or some dampening (again perhaps rubber) on the rails?

I'm sure that this would not need to be on the contact point, but just attached to the metal to absorb some of the vibration.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Underground wind turbines

One of the disadvantages of wind turbines is noise. Would it be possible to put the turbine underground so that it is acoustically insulated, and have wind funnelled down to it?

Another potential benefit is that the working parts are more accessive for servicing.

The input and output funnels could for example be put at the top of a tall building. It should be possible to use fins to angle the funnels to catch the wind.

Feature for email programs

I'd quite like a feature for email programs to provide a list of all the email addresses (or contacts) included in the emails (to, from and/or cc'd) of a particular folder.

I did try to do this with Outlook VBA, but no luck so far...

Training salary sacrifice scheme

It seems to me that too few employers are willing to sponsor their employees through qualifications (particularly in these difficult economic times). Perhaps there is an opportunity for a temporary salary sacrifice system to pay for qualifications (perhaps with employers matching employees contributions). The advantage to the employee is that they pay for their qualification with their pre-tax income (i.e. saving tax on the study); the advantage for the employer is that their workforce becomes better qualified (potentially at lower cost); and the advantage to the government/state is that their population becomes better qualified (albeit at the cost of lower income tax take).

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Making fridges smart

Makes appliances smart is not about bolting a computer onto the appliance – putting a computer in the door of the fridge – it has to be about integrating the computer and the appliance. The key to achieving this, and to begin opening up the possible benefits of smart appliances, is sensors (data input).

Some potential sensors for fridges:
  • Internal thermometer
  • External thermometer
  • Door open/closed sensor
  • Power usage meter
  • Cameras (perhaps per shelf) covering the inside of the fridge
  • Electronic noses (perhaps detecting off-milk?)
  • Pressure sensors (in shelves)
Note, the cameras should facilitate: measuring how full the fridge is; object recognition; barcode scanning; etc.

The second, and perhaps more complicated stage, is linking this data with the functions (activities) of the appliance, and perhaps extending the functions. The functions of a fridge:
  • refridgeration
  • air circulation within the fridge
  • light
  • ice maker
The potential extensions are:
  • An automatic door

Monday, 2 May 2011

A potential use for carputers

It would be useful for carputers to have a "report pothole" button on the dashboard. When the driver encounters a pothole, he/she presses the button and the GPS location and direction (giving the side of the road) are reported to the highway maintenance authorities (via 3G connection). There is also the potential for sensors in the car's suspension or shock absorbers to collect data and report automatically. This principle is also applicable to other road issues, for example broken signs, debris on the road, etc.

Saturday, 30 April 2011

3D printing using waste paper

One of the potential barriers to the rise of 3D printing is the cost of the printing material: an expensive material both reduces the desire to purchase a 3D printer; and may inhibit experimentation with 3D forms.

One very cheap and similar technology that already exists is papier-mâché. It uses just water, newspaper (recycled) and flour - all very cheap components. Could a 3D printer be designed to print an equivalent to papier-mâché with tiny pieces (pulp) of paper rather than strips?

I've done some searching, but all I can seem to find is Mcor, who's technology relies on office paper (not recycled, not so cheap), glue (probably more expensive than flour) and cutting away the excess paper rather than printing paper pulp. Not that's Mcor's technology doesn't look amazing.

Friday, 29 April 2011

Society's best interest

Is there ever a point where an individual, when considering their track record of behaviour, would be right to conclude that their suicide is the most moral act they can undertake? For example, imagine that individual is a compulsive murderer. There is a possibility that treatment may cure this, but there is a significant risk that the individual would offend again. For that individual, the appropriate moral action is suicide.

360o feedback system

What I would like from a 360o feedback system:
  • All people in the organisation are set up as users on a intranet hosted feedback system
  • Each user can nominate other users (e.g. those they have work with, worked for, or had working for them) to give them feedback
  • Users can also nominate themselves to give feedback for other users
  • Users can nominate other users to give feedback to their direct reports
  • Certain relationships do not require nomination (e.g. line manager) - for these relationships feedback is mandatory
  • For nominations, feedback is optional
  • Feedback from all nominated/compulsory users is aggregated at the end of the appraisal period, and used for the manager to assess the performance of their direct reports
  • Feedback on a particular user is by default hidden from that user (both the content, and that actual feedback has been submitted), but can be seen by both the submitting user and the receiving user's line manager
  • Submitting users can opt to have their feedback visible to the recipient
  • Users can submit feedback as many times as they like per person in the reporting period
  • Users can attach documents when giving feedback
  • Feedback may include categories, ratings, etc based on the specific performance assessment criteria of the organisation (thus the design of the system would need some flexibility)

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Paste values/unformatted

I want the ability to, in the options of a programme, change the default paste. In particular I want to be able to change the default paste to "paste unformatted", although I'm sure others would want something different, therefore the ability to set the default paste option is important.

Absense of IP

Does the absence of IP ever prevent commercialisation of an idea because the margins (or return on investment) would be too low? So could publishing of ideas prevent their implementation?

Perhaps, for example, significant investment is required to realise the idea, but that once invested this is easily copied by competitors. So no company is willing to make the investment, so the idea remains unimplemented because it is already in the public domain.

Just charge USB adaptor

Problem: when I connect devices (e.g. mobile) to my PC/laptop for charging, they want to dock, etc, which I don't want.

Solution: a USB adaptor that connects only the power wires so no docking happens (just good clean charging).

(I've seen devices like this for charging iPad and iPhones with uncooperative USB ports, so I suspect these work in the same manner.)

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Further thoughts on online media

I posted previously about what I want from an online media service. I have a couple of points to add:
  • Another form of media in the same place: games (interactive media)
  • A couple of other payment models: free; and ad supported
  • The media service must facilitate direct upload by any content creator, even if that's one man in his room with a microphone
In terms of a value chain, there are really only four contributers (at least in the simplest model): the creator creates the content; the host provides access to that content; the promoters promote it; the internet service provider provides access to it. However, the promoters can just be word of mouth (i.e. free), as can the creators in some instances. The host may be compensated by advertising revenues; the internet service provider is likely to need to be paid (to cover the costs of maintaining the network).

For the consumers' convenience, a monopoly is ideal (i.e. all media in one place - no need to traipse around the world wide web looking for who hosts the content you want to see). However, this would place enormous power in the hands of that monopoly. As such it may be optimal to have the service provider as a not-for-profit (cost recovery) pan-industry joint venture with significant regulatory oversight.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Do you have your own cup, container, etc?

It's quite common now to hear in a supermarket "do you have your own bags?". Is this the beginning of a trend? When will you go into Starbucks and they ask "do you have your own cup?", or go into McDonalds and they ask "do you have your own container?". Such a trend would no doubt be good for the environment (and no so good for the profitability of packing/container firms). It would also lead to a change in the pricing approach for some goods. For example, Starbucks might place your cup on the counter, and then weigh in the coffee. You pay per gram. The same might be true of a lunchtime takeaway place serving pasta salad.


So much art (or any creativity/innovation) takes an idea an keeps applying it with slight (and not very interesting) tweaks. Is there a name for this kind of creativity? Self-derivative?

Comedown clinic and hangover hospital

A defining feature of the modern age in the West is unrestrained hedonism, including the abuse of drink and drugs. Many people suffer the next day from the night before. But perhaps this creates an opportunity: a comedown clinic or hangover hospital. Based in the centre of town near the nightclubs, revellers check in after a heavy night and are treated with appropriate medication, hydration (possibly a drip) and complementary therapies (e.g. massage, acupuncture) to speed their recovery. Of course the most important of this is a comfortable bed (in a sound and light insulated room), and a hearty breakfast. Such a service would be more expensive than a hotel, but there are probably enough rich revellers to make it successful.

Dividend yield, Return on Equity, alternative

I don't see Dividend Yield as a useful way to measure the performance of companies as the current share price is often fickle and volatile (tautology deliberate). Both inputs to the equation are from the perspective of the shareholder, who is interested in dividends and capital growth.

Dividends Per Share
Share Price

Similarly, I don't see Return on Equity as a useful way to measure the performance of companies as both inputs to the equation are from the perspective of the company (they are "internal", accounting figures).

Net Income
Shareholder Equity

I would be interested to see the outcome of comparing the net income to the cash inflows from shareholders, adjusted for inflation since the inflow, less outflows to shareholders (in the form of dividends). Also interesting would be a comparison of current market capitalisation agains cash inflows from shareholders, adjusted for inflation since the inflow, less outflows to shareholders.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Alarm app

In the movie cliches, people wake up being told the date and the news headlines. Typically this doesn't work in real life as your alarm goes off before or after they say the date and announce the news. But, an app on your smartphone could do just that, pulling in the data before your alarm time so that you get to hear the date and news headlines first thing. Or just the date being read aloud to you.

How to counter Apple stylistically

To beat Apple at its own game, its competitors need to stop immitating and create a range of products that are instantly recognisable as theirs. What is needed is a full frontal assault on Apple's stylistic dominance of consumer electronics.

For example, a computer, phone and tablet making company should launch a full range of steampunk inspired consumer electronic devices. The range would be instantly identifiable as such. It would feature brass, wood and rivets. The devices would come in boxes lined with velvet (or fake equivalent). The range itself would need a name, such that it could be the [manufacturer] [range name] range. Perhaps "Age of Elegance" range.

Another stylistic challenge would be a strong grunge/metal/industrial theme, with skulls, spikes, flames, grim reapers, etc.

Sharp should expand on its wooden phone (Touch Wood SH-08C) with a full range of wooden consumer electronic devices.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Automated book scanning for the people

Is there a market for a home/consumer automated book scanner? How cheap would these need to be to hit mass market, and for book piracy to take off in the same way music and film piracy has?

Work, rest and play

Common knowledge suggests that we need a good balance of work, rest and play. But is this true? There's a fair amount of science behind the need for rest (especially sleep) and some pretty serious side effects of not sleeping. But how about play? What would be the impact of taking "play" out of someone's life, but giving them work and enough rest. Does their productivity, happiness increase, decrease or stay the same?

Organising the world's information

How successful has Google been against its mission (organising the world's information)? How much information is there in the world? What are the categories of information? How is this information currently stored?

Feature/vote system

Democratise the prioritisation of addition of new features (and whether included at all). This would help to counter feature creep, whilst engaging users and putting them at the centre of the process.

Buying freedom

Can you blame a man for craving money when what money truly represents is freedom?

No ideas left behind

The power and ubquitous resource of the singularity mean that no idea need go unimplemented, at least in a virtual sense (although the boundry between virtual and reality will blur). Even now, we have sufficient resource that no idea need go uncaptured.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Pulse app

Reminds you to take your pulse at regular intervals; provides a timer, with beeps, to help you measure your pulse; allows you to input the results, including a flag of whether resting or not, to a database, from which your pulse over time can be monitored.

Catch up news service

Use inputs the time they last got a catchup (or remembered by system), their interests (again remembered by system) and the amount of time they have available for reading. The user receives the output to the level of depth proportional to the time they have available.

The need for such a service arises as people's busy schedules preclude accessing news on a regular basis. RSS feeds work in giving you completeness, but the constant volume does not reflect the time people have available - there is no prioritisation.

The extreme example of when this service would be useful is when coming back from holiday, but some users would find it useful hour-to-hour.


It seems to me not enough to be an expert in one field, one must also have significant knowledge of other fields. For example, if an expert is writing a textbook on their area of expertise, they may wish to include a diagram to communicate the facts and ideas. However, the appropriate design of diagrams is, in itself, an area of expertise: the expert needs some (perhaps significant) knowledge of the latter discipline in order to be able to communicate the ideas. A further example is language, spelling and grammar - the expert needs to know these in order to communicate his ideas. Are the requirements for secondary knowledge limited to communication techniques? No, they can be analysis techniques, and documentation techniques, etc. This line of thinking reminds me of a quote from Thomas Henry Huxley:

Try to learn something about everything and everything about something.

But actually that's not where I'm going with this thought. I think the real concern is that an expert cannot be fully effective as they cannot possibly be an expert in everything due to human limitations. Such a realisation, of course, leads to the thought: bring on the singularity!


This thought arose from an encounter with an (in my opinion) especially poorly designed diagram in a textbook of a renowned expert (who, in my opinion, had not sufficienty diversified his expertise!).

I have also been thinking about the purpose of diagrams. There are two separate categories that come to mind:
  • simplying the explanation of a complex topic (a picture is worth a thousand words)
  • providing an aide-memoir that is helpful only one the user understands the topic area

Critique of critiques of critiques

It is possible, and often appropriate to critique a critique. And then perhaps possible to critique the critique of a critique. But when should we stop?

Single financial portal

I would like to have a single financial portal with one login that would give me full access to bank accounts with different banks. Further, this portal would allow me to invest and divest in shares, bonds, gold, derivatives (e.g. futures), etc and to take out loads - effectively all financial products in one. The portal would show me a summary of the information - the net worth of my investments. And it would automatically calcuate my tax due.

Such a single portal would need to be run by a consortium of most if not all financial services providers to avoid monopoly regulation/interference - it could be set-up as a not-for-profit entity, with strict rules allowing any (regulated) financial service product to be sold.

The advantages of such a portal to consumers are obvious. But there are also benefits to the financial services sector: the opportunity to sell more exotic financial services to customers; the opportunity to sell more financial services advice; a greater mobility of customers, which will benefit the upstart financial services providers rather than the incumbents.

Negative product placement

Is it possible to pay for your competitor's product to be shown in a poor light in a work of fiction? Is this ethically any different from product placement?

The biggest bains of my digital life

The biggest bains of my digital life:
  • Battery life
  • Mobile download speeds
  • Logins (there are too many!)
 Should these not be the highest items on the agenda of the technology industry?

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Restaurant, cafe, bar, pub types

It's not easy visiting a restaurant/cafe/bar/pub, especially in different countries, as there is so much that varys:

Able to reserve a table/not able to reserve a table
Seat yourself/seated by waiter, waitress or host
Order drinks from the table/order drinks at the bar
Order food from the table/order food at the bar
Food delivered to the table/food collected from the counter
Bill presented at the table/bill presented at bar or desk
Bill paid at the table/bill paid at bar or desk

I write this after spending five minutes standing, like a lemon, at the entrance of a restaurant waiting to be seated before realising that this kind of restaurant was more like a bar, and you had to seat yourself.

Can someone make a guide book?

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Head refrigerator

Head refrigerator, with built-in eye-mask, for migraines.

Too much written down

At some point, does a man have too much written down for himself to process? How can we organise our own thoughts better?


Is it possible to describe any line using a formula? If so, how do the ends of the line work? Is it possible to write a computer program to determine the formula for any line?

Mass produced items with random variation or defects

There appears to be a social trend of preference for hand made items and old/antique items. This in part seems to be a rebellion against the uniformity of mass-produced items. It appears to me, however, that adding some non-uniformity, variation or defects to mass-produced items is just another engineering challenge. All that is needed is study of what makes objects look handmade (e.g. colour variation, shape variation, cracks, chips, aging) and development of solutions to reproduce these in mass-production setting. Examples of objects: tiles; wooden furniture; etc.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Omnidirectionaly camera

I would quite like an omnidirectionaly camera sticking out of the top of my phone, that would allow me to take surrupticious photos while using my phone at a normal angle.

Random zaniness generator

My observation of zaniness is that it often involves linking subjects that appear unrelated. Obviously there is skill in making the link, but tool to randomly pick word from the dictionary would help.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Music genres

I find the quality of classificiation of music into genres to be poor, making it difficult to fully explore a genre. Would it be possible to develop software that could analyse music and classify it? Perhaps rather than relying on rigid definitions of the genres, the software could measure similarity to existing tracks which are considered by experts to define a genre.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Toys that fire things

For some unfathomable reason, I was, the other day, thinking about the toys I used to play with as a child. In particular, a toy tank that fired a missile. I remember being upset that I'd lost the missile from the tank and hence the toy was useless. Why don't the manufacturers make the toys with mini waterpistols rather than firing a missile? That way there would be no lost fun from running out of ammunition, and much less risk of taking out an eye!

Moving blade vertical axis wind turbine

I remember reading that there are problems with efficiency of vertical axis wind turbines (I seem to remember this being because the return stroke is going into the wind). I wondered whether it would be possible to have on the arms of the turbine blades that can also move. Thus, on the return stroke the air can flow between the blades. The diagram below (a top down view) may explain (or may not!):

Random route generator

I was recently using my thrice-weekly runs to explore a new area and it occured to me that a personal GPS device would be able to calculate a perfect set of routes to get coverage of all the possible routes available when you first start running in a new area. Runners would be told turn left/turn right, just like drivers.

For areas you already know, a random route generator could be used to add variety. Additionally, the user would be able to mark certain stretches as "like" (e.g. a nice path down by a lake) and these be added in more often.

It also occurs to be that the same concept would useful for police patrols: to ensure full coverage; and to prevent criminals predicting where the police will be. The random routes for police could also be modified with crime data, so that hotspots are visited more often.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

To be the first

Simultaneous exchange booth

It has always troubled me slightly that for exchange transactions one might person might hand over the goods, then the recipient refuse to hand over the money. So I thought about how you might enforce transfer.

The diagram below is a top down view of what I have referred to as a simultaneous exchange booth. There are two boxes set in a wall. The boxes have a perspex hatch (in brown) that allows the trade partners to see what is being exchanged. The hatch can only be opened if both doors are shut, and both parties simultaneously depress the levers.

This mechanism also allows blind exchange: all you can see is what is being exchanged, not the person.

Identifying opportunity via the web

If people are looking for things and can't find them, that suggests an opportunity exists. Search engines and searchable product websites should be able to mine their search history data to look for common searches that had a poor quality or low volume of matches. Such searches are opportunities for new products, new services, new websites, etc.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

It's all about

Managing expectations

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Recommended reading for life

What is the recommended reading for life? Are there some books that provide such an insight to the human condition that they are essential reading for all human beings?

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Class A cherries

Today's thought for the day is a brand/image for an alternative clothing line: Class A cherries. The clothing would feature images of rebellious anthropomorphic cherries in a variety of styles (e.g. cherries in leather jackets, cherries skateboarding, cherries bungee jumping, etc). For subtlety, the clothing line name would be restricted to the inner label.

Diet guidelines from shopping habits

Supermarkets must be awash with great data on peoples shopping habits from their store cards. I hypothesize that it would be possible to accurately determine someones diet from their supermarket shopping habits (although I realise that people still buy a lot of their snack food, takeaways, etc outside of supermarkets). If such a hypothesis proved to be true, the data would allow identification of the most dietary "at risk" people, who could be referred for medical help. Alternatively, the supermarket could take it upon themselves to make suggestions to help people, although I doubt this would go down well with customers.

My theory on my headaches

My theory on my observation of my headaches (without the aid of rigorous science) is that they relate to blood pressure, perhaps with the pain resulting from the pressure of blood on nerves. There is increased blood flow to areas that are working hard, e.g. the head muscles that tense when we concentrate or are stressed. This increased blood flow increases the pressure.