Friday, 30 March 2012


HackerSpace + Recycling => RecyclaSpace

A hackerspace located at a waste/recycling centre that allows the members of the hackerspace to forage for recyclable materials amongst the waste and recyclng brought to the centre.

The benefits:
  • The random nature of items encountered for recycling helps to inspire creativity
  • Useful things produced from waste
  • Less material goes to landfill
  • An educational center

Cerebral economy

It is said that developed countries have transitioned to (or are transitioning to) a knowledge economy. And it is certainly the case that jobs tend to require more knowledge to do. But how many jobs, despite the reliance on memory, actually place that much reliance on the other mental faculties - creativity, ability to apply concepts, etc?

It seems to me that the opportunity for exercising and developing higher cerebral functions is still monopolised by the few. With no experience of jobs relying on higher cerebral functions, your chances of getting a job that will make use of higher cerebral functions are low.

Fortunately, information technology will be our savior. As computers are able to do more and more of human's lower cerebral functions, and data is better organised and accessible, we will become partners with our computers. And IT literacy will be more than Microsoft Windows and Office, with the average person acquiring more and more skills of the software engineer and the database manager.

A distinguishing characteristic of a cerebral worker compared to a knowledge worker is that performance drops off significantly with overwork, and is improved significantly by work environment, team spirit and a sense of purpose. Although this was also the case with the knowledge worker compared with the physical laborer, it is another step in the right direction.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Life becomes less extreme as you become older

The extremities of experience have been pushed out by earlier experiences such that the chance that each new experience will be more extreme than the most extreme ever encountered is lower.

Monitoring other cars

The sooner we get to driverless cars the better. In the meantime, it would be good for cars to provide us information about the driving behaviour of other cars around us. This would make use of existing adaptive cruise control technology (for the car in front) and other range sensors for cars to the sides and rear, combined with GPS data and data from road marking detectors.

One particularly useful piece of information would be an indication of the car in front's speed (and average speed over a period of time) - allowing a judgement on whether its worth overtaking (and whether doing so will allow the driver to remain within the speed limit).

Another useful piece of information would be on the variability lane positioning of other cars (perhaps combined with speed consistency). This information could be used to warn drivers of other cars that might not be safe (e.g. driving under the influence, or tireness, etc) and that the driver should maintain additional distance.

Automating memory refreshers

We learn best when our memory is refreshed i.e. some time after the initial learning event, we revisit the facts, concepts and definitions, reinforcing them in our minds (or test ourselves on that learning). Organising ourselves to achieve these refreshers, at the right depth, in the right quantity and at the right time after the original learning event can be quite a challenge. An automated solution is needed.

Logging learning

The first part of the process is to log all learning: both what you're learning and when you're learning it. This is easy for online courses (call out to Khan Academy, AI Class and Udacity) as the system has access to what content you're viewing when.

For self-directed web-based learning (i.e. reading educational webpages) it might be possible to track pageviews. For example, an add-on could be built into the browser allowing all pages in a particularly browsing session to be logged as learning. Likewise, for self-directed book-based learning it would be possible to set up a web service to log when you've read each chapter of a text book.

For school, university and other courses, logging learning activity will depend on the available systems of that institution - normally there are fairly good records of what courses people have attended when. Ideally, this information could be uploaded to an online tool, although manual entry by students into an online tool is also a possibility (particularly in the short term).

Refresher content

The key question for refresher content is who makes it. I would argue that it is incumbent upon any creator of educational content to create the refresher content, but this is not currently common practise.

For educational content in digital format, it may be possible to extract key items of content (e.g. definitions) automatically, particulary if there is a glossary. This may work well for the self-directed web-based learning mentioned above.

Another possibility would be an online repository where students can share refresher content for a particular course/chapter/module/book/webpage/etc. This would be combined with the online logging tools mentioned above.

There are two key types of refresher content: information (as small a unit as possible, a knol); and quizzes (to test knowledge. The information content is read/watched/heard by the student, reinforcing the information in their memory. Information content includes facts (e.g. year Shakespeare was born), definitions (e.g. definition of ignaeous rock), concepts (e.g. demand curve). Diagrams and videos make best use of our senses.

Timing of refreshers

The timing of refreshers needs to be based on research as to the optimal time post-initial-learning. Some level of user control over refresher intervals (and the option to turn off) is desirable. It might be possible to separate students using a refresher online tool into separate cohorts to actually conduct the research using the tool. Alternatively, feedback could be provided by students as to whether they considered the timing of the refresher was suitable (although this is subject to introspection illusion).

Number of refreshers

It would be theoretically possible to continue refreshers until the student dies, but this is unlikely to be necessary - my personal experience would suggest that there are some facts that are here to stay - they don't need any more refreshing.

Again, the number of refreshers needs to be determined by research, and would probably rely heavily on user feedback (the "I feel like I know this now" button).

Distribution of refreshers

The obvious medium for distributing refreshers is email (with embedded pictures, video), being free an ubiquitous. For quiz-type refreshers an email-distributed link back to an online learning site would be sensible.

Other methods (Twitter, SMS, post, podcast, RSS) could also be used. A mix of methods may be optimal to stimulate learning.

With a shared online tool, it should be possible to collate all refreshers into a single email for daily reading.

Depth and quantity of refreshers

The depth and quantity of refreshers depends on two factors: the optimal level of refreshers (research derived) based on the amount of education the student has received; and the available time of the student. I would hope that the average person could spare 10 minutes a day to make the most of the education they've received.


There are a couple of opportunities here: for existing online education services, automating refreshers is a bolt-on to the existing package; there is scope for a standalone service catering to the needs of self-directed learner; and there is a gargantuan opportunity to get traditional educational institutions converging on one tool.

Publishing brainstorms

Brainstorms, either individual or group, usually produce a wealth of outcome, often much of which is not used and is filed in a drawer or thrown away. This presents two problems: a lack of historial record that could be of value in the future to people trying to understand decisions and thought processes; and it wastes creative output.

The barriers to publishing the output of brainstorms include: that the output is often written on paper, so effort is required in scanning (including OCR issues) or typing-up; the protection of intellectual property, where the output includes ideas you might use; and that the output often lacks sufficient flesh on ideas to make them valuable to others.

One possible use for output (where mind maps are used) would be to have a single online mind map in the public domain that takes keyword or keyphrase mind map inputs and uses these to strengthen and extent the map (a set input format would be needed, as would conventions on keywords and keyphrases). This resource could then be used by people - they enter a key word and can have a mind map displayed to them, varying the extent of the map (number of nodes away from the centre) and filtering on the strength on a connection (based on the number of uploads that reinforce that connection).

Saturday, 17 March 2012

In-store links

When physically arranging stock in a store, particularly in a supermarket, it's not possible to cater for all product relationships in customers minds, and hence where they expect products to be. This has been overcome in part by standardising shop layouts such that customers have learnt where products should be. However, some tricky products remain, which could logically be in two different sections. The store has the option of putting the stock in both locations (which is inefficient from a stock control point-of-view) or putting in just one location (which seems to be the case in my experience). If the latter, customer experience would be significantly improved with signed in related sections pointing on a map to where related (and thus expected) goods are located - a physical world equivalent of links (or "customers who bought this also bought" type recommendations).

(Obviously an electronic map and search function is the optimum, but higher tech solution.)

Finding hidden areas of remoteness

If I was ever lucky enough to be able to earn enough (unlikely) to afford a second home for vacations, I'd want it to be not too far from my primary residence (enabling weekend trips), close enough to activities (e.g. mountains for skiing), and as remote as possible - away from the noise of roads (and other people in general).

So what's the best way of finding such a place? It would be interesting to analyse map data (e.g. openstreetmap) for proximity to highways, roads, rail tracks and housing/urban areas, potentially finding "hidden" areas of remoteness near big cities. Such an analysis would have to subdivide the map into units of area (e.g. square miles) and iterate through all such units giving a score based on the weighted distance of the features such as roads. The radius of checked area for each unit of the map would also need to be set.

In store bike parking

Keeps customers bikes safe, gets customers into the store, promotes cycling. Win, win, win.

Turning street lights into projectors

Would it be possible to put a lens and controllable layer (e.g. eInk) on street lights such that an advertisement could be projected onto the street or sidewalk below? This could help to pay to street lighting, by selling off the advertising space.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

A challenge for image recognition

To be able to recognise the components and connections, and hence derive the functionality, from a photograph of a circuit board.

Why? Because detailed technical specifications of products are not released into the public domain, and there hence loss of knowledge if these documents are not retained by the manufacturer.

Alternatively, how about some legislation to require companies to safeguard historical detailed technical specifications (or release them into the public domain)?

Automated identification of gaps in knowledge

It would be useful to have a web crawler that analyses word, phrase, acronym and initialism usage on the web, compares it to Wikipedia and Wiktionary, and identifies where articles (for either Wikipedia or Wiktionary) are needed.

Likewise corporations could use such technology to analyse the word, phrase, acronym and initialism usage on their intranet (and possibly internal email and internal filesystem, etc), compare it to Wikipedia, Wiktionary and to internal Wiki/Glossary pages, and identifying where articles are needed.

The Donkey and Cart model of capitalism

The way I imagine capitalism should work goes as follows: corporations are a donkey, pulling a cart; government is the driver of the cart, controlling the donkey; and the public are the passengers on the cart, telling the driver where they want to go.

In our present situation, the driver has lost control of the donkey; it pulls the reigns this way and that, making it look like the driver is in control. And the driver doesn't want to admit to the passengers that he's lost control of the donkey.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Rules of thumb

Organisations should publish on their intranet a list of rules of thumb for estimating the costs of a business case, e.g. average salary, overhead, etc. This would make it much quicker to prepare business cases.