Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Strategic government

Problem: governments are too shorttermist, partially due to the election cycle.
Solution: a separate elected body with a much longer election cycle (e.g. 15-20 years), whose role is to look at longterm strategic issues.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Workplace clock

There seems to be no-end of clock-based gimmicks, so I'll throw a thought into the mix: a pair of clocks for the workplace, tailored for employers and employees. The clock for employers runs fast in the morning and slow in the late afternoon; the clock for employees runs slow in the morning and fast in the late afternoon. Both clocks would be in sync with normal clocks outside of these periods.

An employee could place such a clock in their cubicle, justifying to themselves arriving late and leaving early. The employer could place such a clock on the wall to encourage earlier starts and latter finishes.

It might be better to sell just the clock mechanism, allowing it to be matched with any set of face and hands. It would also be useful to have a control for the extent of the fastness/slowness.

The Anti-Cloud

Within a couple of years it will become economic, and potentially of benefit, for telecoms companies to provide to the retail market routers that are in fact fully fledged computers, complete with processor, memory and storage.

One of the most important aspects of routers is that unlike consumers' computers, they tend to be left on. As such, this change will significantly increase the quantity of always-on, always connected computers in the retail market.

This increase will be of immense benefit to distributed computing projects such as Folding@home, but will also provide the opportunity for open-source, community-driven, cloud-like services to arise: distributed versions of all of the online services we currently see today. The Diaspora Project is an early example of this, but for most, if not all online services, there is an opportunity for a distributed, community-controlled alternative.

The benefit to telecoms companies (why it might be adopted)

As IPTV takes off, significant strain will be placed on the network. By placing storage into customers' homes, telecoms companies can take advantage of troughs in traffic to cache popular content locally, helping to ensure both good customer service and network resilience.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Packaging as a dynamic advertising medium

As display technologies (LCD, OLED, eInk, etc), batteries and solar cells become cheaper, it will become increasingly cost-effective to place dynamic adverts and product information on product packaging. Dynamic and light-emitting displays will be eye-catching, allowing products to stand out on crowded retailer shelves.

Coupled with sensor technologies, packaging could be programmed to respond interactively to customers, a simple example would be lighting up in response to customer proximity.

It is likely that such packaging would be criticized on environmental grounds, due to the electronic waste it would produce.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Formula-driven tables and text in word processor

Whilst I'm on the subject of formula-driven objects in productivity suites, it would be useful to have formula driven tables and text in the word processor. This is not the same as pasting linked data from the spreedsheet tool, but actually writing a formula into a table in the word processor to reference out to data in a spreadsheet.

Likewise, it would be helpful to be able to enter formula driven text into any paragraph, and have the information pulled from an underlying spreadsheet. This might be useful for a report prepared in a word processor, which needs to be consistent with a continually-updated spreadsheet.

Obviously this functionality would be useful for a presentation application, as well as other applications of a productivity suite.

Formula-driven image objects in an office suite

Wouldn't it be useful if properties of image objects in office suites (MS Office, OpenOffice, LibreOffice, etc) could be formula-driven from a spreadsheet.

The properties would include the size, position, colour, label, etc, covering all image object properties.

Such effects are achievable with the relevant programming language of the office suite (e.g. VBA, OpenOffice Basic, LibreOffice Basic, etc), however such functionality is not easily accessible to the average user.

Making image objects formula-driven should be fairly easy within the existing interface, i.e. where the user normally goes to edit an object's properties, they can put a formula (with cells references, functions, operators, etc) instead of just a value. The below image illustrates.

It would also be useful to have dedicated "image" tabs to the spreadsheet program (similar to chart tabs).

Formula-driven image object functionality should extend to other elements of the office suite, e.g. for the word processor, presentation tool, etc.

Why would such a tool be useful? To allow the preparation of dynamic diagrams that can change as the user's data changes, and can be easily updated. For example, non-chart ways of presenting numeric information.

Floating (sinking) reverse osmosis desalination plant

Reverse osmosis relies on a force to push water through a membrane against the osmotic gradient. If gravity was used to provide that force, then all that would be needed would be to continually pump-away the fresh water. The diagram below illustrates.

The desalination part would be in a continuous state of sinking, pulled down by the weights. However, it would never actually sink as the fresh water is pumped away. The pump could be powered by a solar cell and wind turbine, coupled with a battery, or alternatively by a power supply from shore.

The fresh water could be pumped directly to shore, or to a reservoir. The reservior should float as fresh water is less dense than salt water. It may be possible to achieve a balance such that the reservoir provides buoyancy for the desalination element in the event of pump/power failure.

The pipe connecting the desalination element should be flexible to allow relative movement of the two.

Plants could be anchored or permanently affixed to the sea bed. Plants anchored in shipping lanes could be used to provide emergency fresh water to passing ships.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Robot-powered object rental service

I have posted previously on the possibility for an online service to facilitate asset sharing.

A potential update to this idea is the use of robots to deliver the objects being rented, reducing the inconvenience of renting. Self-driving cars are proceeding apace - as that technology is implemented, the cost of distribution will begin to fall.

One could imagine a fleet of transportation robots, centred around an automated storage warehouse, delivering and retrieving objects ordered by an online system.

Sending banks online letters (the converse of online statements)

Banks, utility companies, etc have been pushing their customers towards online statements, as they save the companies money (together with being good the for the environment). But this has principally been a one-sided relationship. There is an opportunity for these companies to provide a secure communications medium (similar to email) on their online systems. As the user has to log in to be able to access and send messages, concerns over private financial details are negated. Such a system should include the ability to send attachments to the company, e.g. scanned receipts.

Can splitter

For cat and dog food (and potentially for other applications), it would be good to be able to split a can in half leaving a rounded edge, such that the pet could eat directly from the can. The other half can then be fitted with a lid for later use. I'm sure it would be possible to devise a can-opener to achieve this.

The advantage of such a device is that it could be built into an auto-pet-feeder, which could be used to feed pets whilst the owner is on vacation.

House to house mesh wifi network as emergency internet

Would it be possible to have a house-to-house mesh wifi network as an emergency internet?

Each house's wifi currently has sufficient range to reach the next house in urban areas, and with wimax technology, a house-to-house mesh network could be possible in rural areas. Combine this with home power generation (wind turbines, solar panels, etc), and there is a communications network that is resilient to disaster or attack.

Such a network could not easily be taken down by government to stop the populace communicating during times of government repression.

Such a network could also present problems for policing file sharing, as it would be outside the control of centralised telecommunications companies.

Merging the vending machine and the production line

As production lines become more and more automated, they can be brought closer and closer to the customer. The distinction between a vending machine and a production line will begin to blur. And the range of products and services that can be delivered by a vending machine will continue to grow.

Would it not be possible with current technology to fully automate a McDonalds?