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.