Friday, 27 July 2012

Why take notes?

  • The act of notetaking aids memory of information
  • Notes (particularly electronic notes where content is easily inserted) allow collation of information from multiple sources (including independent and original thought)
  • Not all information is readily accessible (for example, notes taken from a conversation or lecture, where the information may only exist in the memory of the people involved)
  • Notes can contain a subset of the available information in other documents, which may make accessing the information easier
  • Electronic notes are searchable

Disadvantages of notetaking
  • Takes time
  • Duplication of information inefficient (updating, storage)

GPS-tracker-based delivery service

Most delivery services rely on addresses, but this isn't helpful for people on the move. It would be helpful to be able to order something and have it delivered to your GPS coordinates at the time of delivery. The service would need parameters (e.g. remaining in the same city), and would need a feed from your GPS or other location device (e.g. cell phone triangulation).

Potential uses: ordering takeout that is delivered to you on your walk home.

Reasonable man licence

Would it be possible to word a copyright licence such that the user of the copyrighted material is required to pay a royalty that a reasonable man would consider adequate given the benefits that the user derives from that use?

Although subjective, this would be a perfect sliding scale rather than the abrupt contrast that occurs in the free for non-commercial use licencing model. It would be similar to donation-ware in payment mechanism, but has more teeth: there is an obligation to "donate".


Don't make decisions, make predictions and let a decision tool make the decision for you.

Heuristics website

I've touched previously on rules of thumb for business cases, but the value of heuristics is much broader than costing business cases - they're fundamental to the way we make decisions and live our lives. The better our heuristics, the better our decisions.

I think there is an opportunity for a website to collate and share heuristics. The content of this website would be crowdsourced with submissions of heuristics from the community. Submissions could be up-voted or down-voted, and an average result available as the best heuristic (e.g. a vote-weighted average).

For each heuristic, the following could be submitted:
  • description
  • average (mean)
  • median
  • mode
  • maximum
  • minimum
  • standard deviation
  • other common values
  • categories/tags
Each of the above is not relevant for every heuristic. For example, mode is not relevant for ratio data.

The descriptive statistics that across submissions would need to be relevant to the underlying data, e.g. the mean mean, the maximum maximum, etc.

In addition to the above, modifying factors such as location, time, etc could be applied. For example, it might be the case that a particular heuristic has varied over the course of human history.

Another useful feature for the site would be unit conversion, for example converting meters into feet, or between currencies (using up-to-date rates, or relevant historic rates).

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Making a habit of learning

If you have to look it up, write it down.

Driving video upload

Driving camera/recorder (or helmet cam for bikers) + automated video upload + free video hosting + licence plate recognition => safer drivers

Driving cameras/recorders (i.e. in-car cameras that video the road ahead or multiple angles from the car) are becoming more prevalent, with a focus on providing evidence in the event of a collision. But the combination of driving cameras, automated video upload, free video hosting and licence plate recognition technology could prove to be an interesting combination

License plate recognition would allow vast quantities of video data to be used by insurance companies assessing whether to insure drivers and what premium to charge, and by law enforcement agents both proactively looking for criminal activity, or looking for evidence of previous history to support a driving case.

The likely impact will be to encourage drivers to drive more safely, saving lives. But perhaps the step towards Orwellianism is uncomfortable.

Meme commercialisation sweetspot

Memes (in the world wide web sense) have proven a valuable tool for marketers, both where the organisation makes reference to or uses an existing meme, or where the organisation creates their own content that goes viral.

To make best use of existing memes, timing is key. An organisation's marketing effort will fall flat if the meme has become stale by the time they use it. To avoid this, two factors are needed: firstly, a lean organisational approach that allows rapid response; and secondly good data to model the life of a meme.

Meme data would include the following (based on average for all previous memes):
  • Meme life expectancy per age
  • Reach over time
  • etc
The above data could be collected per category, to allow better prediction. It should be possible to determine a sweetspot through analysis of data: memes established enough to have a high likelihood of continuing, but young enough to still be fresh.

There is an opportunity here for an organisation to collect this data (from messageboards, social networks, link sharing sites, etc) and sell this to organisations' marketing teams. The customer would approach the organisation looking for fresh memes to be commercialised, or the organisation could proactively recommend relevant memes to its customers (based on their requirements) that are reaching the sweetspot.

Naming blocks of content

When preparing and editing text documents (and potentially other types of document) it would be useful to have paragraph level metadata. The relevant fields would be name, description and purpose, and the metadata could be applied to paragraphs, lists, tables, images/diagrams/figures, titles, etc.

This metadata would allow the user to see an abstracted view, where just the names of the blocks of content would be displayed, rather than the actual content.

Additionally, the metadata could help with change control, as the edits could be recorded at the metadata level. For example:

Monitoring use of electronic devices

There is a wealth of data that can be gleaned from setting up electronic devices to monitor the characteristics of their use. Logging software usage and device input usage is merely a question of writing software to capture data that already exists. Obviously web browsing habits are already captured via cookies, and are a valuable source of information. But there are many other types of data that could be used, for example the typing speed (using a keystroke logger), frequency of typo (by looking at frequency of use of the backspace key), mouse movement speed, etc.

In terms of monitoring the physical environment surrounding the device, eye tracking is common. But there are further opportunities to capture data. For example, 3D imagers and accelerometers could be used to capture the posture and position of the person using the device, allowing real-time recommendations to improve posture. Likewise, lighting levels can be determined from a light sensor, allowing recommendations to be made on lighting levels.

The key objective for organisations

To be more than the sum of their parts.

Twin curses

When poor we risk not being valued; when rich we risk only being valued for our wealth. The optimum: to be poor and valued.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

A trustable link exchange

Is there an opportunity for a trustable link exchange that shows keyword-matched links on websites? The content would need to be text-only (like adwords) to avoid over-burdening pages (and browsers). The service could be offered free to website owners, and benefits them in driving traffic to their site. The trusted link exchange could cover its costs by inclusion of paid-for keyword-match adverts.

Human resource allocation

Is it the responsibility of society to recognise the skills and abilities of its members, and to treat them accordingly? Or is it the responsibility of individuals to promote themselves to ensure their skills and abilities are appropriately employed?

I suspect western society leans too heavily on the latter, with rampant self-promotion, and human resource allocation decisions that are too dependent on, and too swayed by, the quality of the self promotion rather than the underlying skills and abilities.

I also see that a system oriented to the other extreme would be similarly inefficient at human resource allocation. It would be overly dependent on the ability of incumbents to accurately identify the skills and abilities of the people they encounter.

However, given that efficient human resource allocation is virtuous, and self-promotion undesirable, it is imperative that we make strides in the ability of society to accurately identify the skills and abilities of its people, negating any need for for self-promotion.

Flipping the queue and serve model

Restaurants have it right: customers should be seated when being served. How can this model be extended to other retail environments?

For banks and other retain establishments where the customer goes to a service desk (or joins a queue): the store is provisioned with seating in excess of the number of serving staff, with seating in pairs (one for the customer one for the service personnel) or groups (for families). Upon entering the store, a customer takes a seat and is added to an electronic queue (via automatic sensing or the push of a button). The service personel move to each customer in turn to address their needs. Obviously such a store would need to be larger than an existing equivalent, as a standing queuer takes up less space than a sitting queuer. But other than that, the service models are equivalent.

For stores where the customer collects items from shelves, the above model would need to be expanded upon to include a barcode reader at each seat, but it otherwise equivalent.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Beyond eye-droppers: extracting useful data from images

There are three key elements to images: lines; areas; and gradients. The eye-dropper tool allows extraction of color information, and the clone tool and copying and pasting can be used to extract and use lines, areas and gradients. But most techniques are quite manual. It would be good to have some tools to make it easier.

Capturing lines

The user draws a line over the line they see in the underlying data. These lines can be straight or squiggly. The image program extracts the data from the image to create a line data file. The user can then draw a line (which can be straight or differently squiggly) from that file.

A key feature is that the perpendicular axis to the line is maintained. For example, if in the original image the line is red on the left, green in the middle and blue on the right, then when lines are drawn from the image file the left of the line is red, the middle green and the right blue.

As the line the user wants to draw may be longer than the line captured from the original image, the data would need to wrap around, and be merged into the start.

Capturing areas

The user selects an area from an image. The area can be any shape. A texture file is generated using the copy and flip method to ensure no seams. As the original area is not required to be a square, the gaps must be filled with relevant content.

The user can then draw the area using a brush or fill.

Capturing gradients

The user selects an area from an image and a starting point. The area can be any shape. A gradient file is captured, being the color differential to the starting point of each pixel in the area selected. Any gaps in the area are filled with matching content.

To use the tool, the user selects a starting point and an area, and then applies the gradient. The colors of each pixel are adjusted relative by the gradient overlay.


It might be possible to automate these tools with line, area and gradient detection, such that an auto-detect function can be run on an image and a set of line, area and gradient files generated.

A thought on databases

It seems to be that there is a fairly generic database structure that could be useful for many applications whereby every record in the database can link into any other record, with those links being either hierarchical or non-hierarchical.

The database would require three tables: a records table; a hierarchical relationships mapping table; and a non-hierarchical relationships mapping table.

A potential use is a hierarchical tagging mechanism, whereby tags are not a separate class of data to the items they are tagging: they themselves are records in the main database table. A tag can be a daughter of any number of other tags.

When viewing a single record you can see its parent list, its child list, and its related list (i.e. non-hierarchical relationships). It would be possible to do queries such as: show all records that are the immediate descendants of record X and have any kind of relationship with record Y.

Home automation: individuals components and grouping

When home automation eventually becomes mainstream, I would  like to have control down into smallest components, but also be able to apply my own groupings to have control at an aggregated level.

For example, a room will typically have several speakers. I would like to be able to control these speakers individually (allowing me to balance the sound based on where I'm sitting), but also in aggregate (changing the volume for the room up and down).

Likewise, rooms will likely have several sensors, for example several thermometers placed around the room. It might be useful to have one action dependent on the temperature of a particular thermometer, whilst otherse are dependent on the aggregate value (maximim, minimum, average, standard deviation, etc).

A question to ask yourself: Unique offering

Have I got anything unique to offer the world? Obviously the literal answer to that is 'yes', so the question needs qualification: Have I got anything materially unique to offer the world? Have I got something to offer that is markedly different from anything else anyone else has got to offer?

Sunday, 8 July 2012

The multipolar technological arms race

That we live in, and are increasingly moving towards, a multipolar world is frequently discussed in the media. An interesting parallel to this trend is that we are also moving towards an increasingly multipolar technological arms race (technological escalation), with an even broader set of participants.

The WWI naval arms race had a handful of key players (most significantly Britain, France, Germany and Russia), which, after the Triple Entente, really had two poles. The Cold War arms race again had two poles (the USSR and NATO). The sovereign participants in our current technological arms race number in the tens (the G-20, etc).

But in addition to the sovereign participants, we also have private sector participants, criminal participants and grassroots/activist participants (e.g. Anonymous).

Why is this an arms race? And who is racing against whom?

War, and in particular cyber war, still remains a possibility in our relatively peaceful world, driving much of the national technological arms race. Additionally, nations invest technologically to maintain or increase economic advantage over other nations, and to maintain law and order within their nation. In some cases, national technological investment may be undertaken to maintain the power of the ruling/influential elite over the common citizen.

Private sector technological investment is principally aimed at maintaining competitive advantage over other companies. However, there is trend where private sector technological investment is aimed at controlling the consumer (digitial rights management is an example). The private sector invests technologically to protect against foreign nations that would attack the private sector as a proxy, potentially against direct company-to-company cyber warfare, against criminal attack, and against grassroots/activist participants.

Criminal technological investment is principally aimed at facilitating the illegal accumulation of wealth from nations, companies and individuals. Criminal organisations must invest technologically to outwit the technological defences of their targets, and also to build defensive (i.e. anonymising) capability to protect against attacks from governments, companies and white-hat activist groups. There is an overlap between the criminal participants to the arms race and the activist participants, where the criminal intent is not obtaining wealth, but pursuing an activist cause.

The range of pursuits of grassroots/activist participants is broad. It could be: battling against government technology that infringes against freedom of speech; battling against private sector technology that takes advantage of the consumer; battling criminal technology that takes advantage individuals. Patriotic activist groups may support the technological capability of the nation. And in some cases, technological escalation may be directly between activist groups.

Conclusion: pretty much every category is racing against every other category in some way or another.

So what?

Well, as a non-criminal consumer and citizen, the activist participants best represent my interests, perhaps followed by the nation state of which I am a citizen and inhabitant (much potential for debate here!). I already support my nation state's technological investment via taxes, but I don't support activist participants. Perhaps I should, perhaps there need to be more obvious ways to do so, and perhaps there needs to be a wider awareness of the need to do so if the participants who best represent my interests are going to win.

Intellectual conformity

The equilibrium state in intellectual matters is intellectual conformity, as truth is absolute. Intellectual disagreement is caused by: an inaccurate model of the truth; an absence of information on one or more sides; a breakdown in logic in one or more sides. Any intellectual standoff should be solvable by addressing these factors, and an important part of that resolution is diagnosing which of these is the cause.