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 The evidence suggests a long tail: Western Union sent its last telegram in 2006 dispite being superseded by phones; payphones are still in use despite being superseded by cell phones.

In many cases, technologies that are superceded gain cultural status by being niche and retro.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.