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