Saturday, 16 February 2013

Lying down desk

The future of work will continue to involve interaction with a computer workstation (potentially until such time as the concept of work becomes obsolete). Most offices give employees a regular desk, keyboard, mouse and monitor setup. Progressive employers offer a few more options, but often these are actually worse for the worker from a posture and RSI point of view.

The ideal workplace needs to have multiple different types of workstation, that employees change between during the day. These could include:
  • Kneeling chair/chair/stool/exercise ball, desk, keyboard, mouse, monitor
  • Standing-height desk, keyboard, mouse, monitor (or Minority-Report-style holographic screen + standing)
  • Couch/armchair/beanbag with monitor on an adjustable arm (like a balanced-arm lamp) and wireless keyboard
  • Treadmill desk
  • Cycling desk
  • Lying down desk
There are a couple of lying-down-desk products around, but they tend to be holders for laptops, resulting in awkward arm positions. What would be ideal is a monitor on adjustable arm (like a balanced-arm lamp), that can be positioned directly overhead (or at a different angle if preferred). And then two half-keyboards that go one each side of the body (by the top of the thigh). This way the arms are almost entirely at rest.

All of this is possible with existing technology. The ideal is to have desktop virtualisation that allows workers to move their logical workstation quickly and easily between all these positions.

Potentially, the number of positions will reduce as voice-recognition supercedes keyboard input. However, the need for a pointing device (mouse or finger) is like to remain for quite a while (potentially to be replaced by eye tracking).

Monument to the unsung scientist

I would like to see a monument to the unsung scientist, with a sentiment similar to the Tomb of the Unknown Solider. Prizes are won by individuals, but progress is made by the cumulative effort of the masses.

The Future of Apps

I still find it difficult to comprehend how marketers have somehow convinced the mass market that there's a difference between applications (on a PC) and "apps" on a smartphone or tablet, and that the latter are cool. I'm sure that there's a fair swathe of the population who thinks applications (or programs, or software) on a PC are fundamentally different from "apps" on their smartphone. But that's an aside.

It's probably not good futurism to base predictions on personal preferences, but as futurism is such a subjective topic anyway, I'm going to go with it:
  • I don't want to have to install to my device applications that I'm going to use once, use infrequently or will almost certainly be connected when using
  • I need the web applications to handle my data securely (e.g. I don't like online file converters that host your files in the public domain)
  • I don't want to have to remember a million logins and to have to keep logging in
  • I do need to know whether an application is local or in the cloud so I can plan for the times when I won't be connected
So what is and what will contine to happen:
  • Desktop apps are moving online (no installation)
  • Smartphone apps will do the same
  • Applications that are cross-platform
  • Applications that are predominantely web-based, but retain some functionality when disconnected
  • Single sign-on
  • Online application aggregation (the Windows Start Menu or quicklaunch bar for web-based applications)

Sealed freshwater tidal power generator

One downside that comes to my mind of using the tides to generate power is that the power generation components are exposed to sea water, which is both corrosive and full of physical and biological impurities. These factors could lead to accelerated component replacement, and hence lower cost-effectiveness.

I wonder whether a sealed environment could be used to generate power from tides. A sketch of an initial idea is below. The system has two tanks, one fixed then other free to move up and down with the tide (freshwater is less dense than sea water, so it should float). When the tide is in, the floating tank is up, so the freshwater flows to the fixed tank. When the tide is out, the floating tank is down, so the freshwater flows back from the fixed tank to the floating tank. Each time there is flow, energy can be extracted.

It is likely that some kind of active control of values would be necessary to optimise power generation, but the cost of implementing this should be minimal.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

The work necessary to understand the status quo

I am frequently overwhelmed by the work necessary to understand the status quo. I was born into the world that had more books that I could read in a lifetime, more music than I could listen to in a lifetime (probably, but certainly now), more video that I could watch in a lifetime (again probably), such a rich history, such deep science, so many myriad of forms of artistic expression.

How does anyone become an expert?

Life themes

It would be interesting to get a good understanding (i.e. some good data) on how life's themes and preoccupations change over lifespan.

A Gantt chart would be an interesting way to present it. It would give people a road map of what to expect from life. Here's an oversimplified example:

How would we go about collecting such data? Respondents are asked to list their preoccupations on a regular basis, but are also prompted at intervals to confirm whether something previously identifid as a preoccupation is still one.

The same approach could work for worries, likes, dislikes, etc

Anti-tie campaign

How much power do marketers (in particular advertisers) actually have? An interesting experiment I'd happily fund (if I was a billionaire) would be to challenge a group of marketers (e.g. students or a professional firm) to get rid of the tie. In some ways its not a tough sell: ties cost money; they take time to put on; and they're uncomfortable. They are a complete waste of economic resource. However, our cultural attachment to them persists. Could a group of marketers with the right resources kill the tie? I'd like to know.