Friday, 11 December 2015

Gamifying lifehacking

The following is a high-level concept for an app that gamifies lifehacking/self improvement.

Users input into the app the details of all goals they are working towards improving, and decompose these into sub-goals. Each sub-goal has a set frequency, and time for check-in. For example, the top level goal might be eating heathily, and this might be decomposed into the following sub-goals:

  • Eat a healthy breakfast, checkin daily 10am, 10 points
  • Don't snack between breakfast and lunch, checkin daily 12:30pm, 10 points
  • Eat a healthy lunch, checking daily 1pm, 10 points
  • Don't snack between lunch and dinner, checkin daily 7pm, 10 points
  • Eat a healthy dinner, checking daily 8pm, 10 points
  • Don't snack between dinner and bed, checkin daily 10pm, 10 points
The app creates a reminder at the specified checkin time and asks the user, "Did you complete the sub-goal". If the user answers "Yes", they get points, if they answer "No" they don't.

The user can see their points trend, which may help motivate them to achieve higher points.

It may be possible to standardise the points awarded for each sub-goal, allowing users to compare points with their friends and compete on leaderboards.

Kinds of goals the app would work with:
  • Go to the gym for 1h daily
  • Brush your teeth for 4 minutes
  • Meditate daily
  • Drink 8 pints of water a day

Thursday, 22 October 2015

A reflection on circumstances

Would a different person have done better than me in the my circumstances? Certainly. And perhaps there would have been others who would have done worse.
Would I have done better in different circumstances? Certainly. But no doubt there many circumstances in which I would have done much worse.

Treat of the day

A treat for me is a difficult subject explained well.

Incentivised blogging

It has become commonplace for mobile apps to offer some kind of feature enhancement in response to a user's review of the app on its relevant app store. Would such a system be possible with off-app-store reviews, typically blogs?

Obviously with human intervention it would be possible for the publisher/developer to check the review, an then unlock features on the user's account. An automated system might be possible where the users submits a url to the blog post, which is then downloaded by a bot and scanned for keywords and sentiment analysis.

Due to the cost overhead of developing the keyword and sentiment analysis, an incentivised blogging solution would probably only make sense as an independent service shared by many app developers/publishers.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Noise contained baby sleep and changing cubicle

I like the sound of babies crying as much as the next person. Ok, perhaps less.

The thing is, babies cry, and sometimes there's little that can be done to stop them crying. But that doesn't meet there isn't something to be done to stop everyone in the surrounding area suffering from it.

The solution I propose is a sound-proof baby care cubicle. The cubicle would be large enough for an adult to sit with the baby, and would also have a cot area. The cubicle would have a built-in baby monitor (as well as some of the features of the previously discussed baby pod).

Such cubicles would allow one care-giver to look after the baby (and suffer the noise) without nearby people suffering the consequences of the noise (including other children that might be woken up).

The cubicles could be used in maternity wards, and could be rented to new parents.

An extreme version of the cubicle would have a sound-proof vestibule that would allow entry and exist of the cubicle without any of the baby's noise being released into the environment.

Stocking shops at airports based on arrivals

With increasing restrictions and costs on what you can take with you on aircraft, and the ever-present threat of forgetting to buy some thing in the first place, being able to pickup souvenirs and gifts in arrivals as you return home is a good idea.

The challenge for the shops in arrivals is to carry enough stock to tailor to every destination that's being arrived from, and also to put that stock on display. One solution to this might be to have the display of arrivals' shops on a conveyor belt. The conveyor belt would be connected to a computer with access to the arrivals data, allowing relevant gifts and souvenirs to be brought into view to meet each arrival.

Work optimally, play optimally

Perhaps the expression "work hard, play hard" has an element of balance to it. But it seems to me that it doesn't capture the importance of balance in life. So I propose "work optimally, play optimally".

Hunger based dining experience

Have you ever noticed that food tastes better when you're hungry?

I wonder whether that presents an opportunity for a hunger based dining experience that relies on this fact.

A simple method might be for a restaurant to ask customers to, in advance, take a short survey regarding their eating habits, and then recommend the timing of their last meal before their reservation. The timing would be to maximize the food-improving hunger.

A more elaborate scheme would involve guests at the restaurant being fitted brainwave monitors that could measure the guests's hunger and so present food at the optimum time.


It is not just at new year that resolutions are made. We eat unhealthily, and resolve to eat more healthily in future. We drink too much and resolve to drink less. We allow our places of residence to become untidy or unclean, and resolve to tidy or clean more frequently. We find that we have been unproductive at work, and resolve to work more diligently. We find that we have been disorganised in our personal affairs, and resolve to be more organised. We argue with loved ones or friends, and resolve to be more understanding.

It appears as though there is a cycle of resolution, attention to subject area of the resolution, a gradual slip of that subject area from the fore of ones attention, and the slip in standards.

How long does this cycle last? How does duration vary between people? Do similar resolutions (e.g. diet resolutions) have similar durations?

How many resolutions does the average person make per year?

Does failure of a resolution weaken our resolve in keeping to others (i.e. make other resolutions more likely to fail)?

It seems that there are many interesting questions that can be asked of this subject, and perhaps a need for tools to capture the data to answer them.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

A problem with driverless cars - jaywalking

Once pedestrians realise that driverless cars are able and willing (or at least programmed to) stop if the pedestrian walks out into traffic, there will be no incentive for pedestrians to walk to designated crossings to cross the road: they'll just simply step out in front of the driverless cars.

This is not so much a problem in the US where crossing other than at intersections is not permitted (and hence there are other disincentives to cross), but in much of the world no such regulation exists.

It is likely that this behaviour will not result in injury given the sophistication of the driverless car technology. However it is likely to result in traffic and a decrease in efficiency of the road network. As such it might be expected that crossing laws outside the US begin to follow the US model.

It is  notable that this behaviour is not likely to emerge until all cars on the road are driverless, which will likely take some time.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Temporary (inflatable?) insulation

In my (admittedly somewhat limited) experience buildings are designed and built for permanence with the features of the building remaining static throughout the year, despite the variation in the seasons. It occurred to me that it should be fairly trivial, and possibly quite beneficial to have (possibly automated) changes to the features of buildings to address seasonal changes.

One example I have given some thought to is the deployment of additional insulation to the exterior of the building to address cold winter conditions. A tent-like structure could be deployed around the building to trap (albeit not particularly tightly) another layer of air. It could be a large tent that sits entirely around the building, or the tent material would be fixed to the building rolled-up like a swimming pool cover for quick deployment. Possibly a full tent would not be required - an extra layer of roof could be unrolled over the existing roof, again from a swimming-pool-cover-like roll, unrolling into slots down the other sides of the roof.

Another possibility for insulation would be something inflatable, like a bouncy castle. The advantage of this is that the air in an inflatable structure is fully contained, providing better insulation. The inflatable structure could be fixed to the building such that it doesn't blow away in storms.

For buildings with plenty of land around them, an interesting solution to extra insulation would be to put a geodesic glass dome all around the building. But it occurs to me that with advances in robotics, it may be possible to create a self-assembling geodesic dome (perhaps using plastic cells, like the Eden Project). Of course self-assembling geodesic domes with plastic cells would also be very useful for this.

Centralization with localism's advantage of experimentation

One of the advantages of localism that is frequently cited is that the diversity of local approaches to a given problem and the relative ease with which new approaches can be adopted provide more opportunity for better solutions to emerge. It provides opportunity for experimentation and innovation, and is analogous to how the Cambrian Explosion resulted in the selection for better-adapted morphologies, or how a shotgun strategy (or throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks strategy) in business allows identification of niches and consumer preferences.

However, a problem that can occur with localism is that local approaches remain entrenched despite inferiority. Or put another way, once a superior approach has been identified in one locality, it is not implemented in other localities (whether such implementation is a push from a centralized authoritiy, or a pull from other localities copying).

So how can the benefit of experimentation be implemented within a centralized structure? Whilst generally working to the (hopefully optimal) centralised approach, local administrative structures would be able to apply for autonomy on a specific problem in order to test a defined alternative approach against a robust set of criteria. As a result of the central control, pushing out a new approach once an experiment has been concluded is relatively easy - the homogeneity of localities means that a single method of implementation is required for the new approach.

Monday, 10 August 2015

If we had gone - route search

When driving have you ever wondered whether you would've been better off by going a different route? The data now exists to answer that question: real-time connected car GPS. All that's needed is a service that provides the ability to query that data.

Even when you're following the best route as indicated by your GPS, it's only a prediction based on current road conditions. It's not a retrospective that definitively answers the question of whether it would've been quicker to go another route.

The service would be an add-on to existing GPS services that would tell the user at the end of the journey whether the route they chose was the quickest.

The system would work by piecing together the data from other cars that go segments of the alternative route.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Storage is cheap, just record everything I consume (on the web)

In the long-run, once the technology catches up with the visionaries, I expect lifelogging technology to seamlessly be able to record a person's entire life into a personal database that is easily query-able. I'd be able to ask the lifelog (via my intelligent personal assistant) to remind me of every occasion that my friend Dave has said something funny. And the technology would be able to identify instances of my laughter that were antecedent to something Dave said (or perhaps an even more sophisticated understanding that Dave said something funny).

One of the things that attracts me most to the idea of lifelogging is being able to deal with those circumstances where you remember reading something, but don't remember the exact details, and don't remember where you read it. I can be surprisingly hard to find the original article with search engines, depending on the vagueness of your memory. And there's a great risk, with web content, that the content may have just disappeared.

One of the tools I use to record articles to address the "I've read something about this, but can't remember where" issue is Evernote. It's pretty trivial to clip a web page and tag it. But doing so requires action. It requires you to think "yes this content was good, I might need to refer to it later". Having to act takes time, and you might not always remember to do it. And further, your assessment of what's going to be useful isn't always that accurate.

So, given that storage is so cheap, should we now be auto-clipping: saving the full text and image (and video?) of every web page that is visited?

Possible problems with such an approach:

  • It might actually take more storage than I think, and cost more
  • It's incredibly wasteful of storage, unless the clipping service stores a single version, linked to multiple users
  • It may well breach copyright
  • Users may visit some websites that they don't want a record of them having visited

Natural language news quiz

One of the brain training apps that I've been playing around with requires that you read some text, and then answer questions based on it. It's testing (and hopefully improving) comprehension and memory.

But why can't I do the same with an article I actually want to read, rather than some pre-defined text for the brain training app?

How would such a system work? I envisage a browser plugin or RSS reader plugin that monitors the news articles (and other web pages) you're reading, then uses Natural Language Processing technology to extract from the article information that it can quiz the user on. Then, some time after the article has been read, the plugin pops-up a quiz for the user to test their comprehension and retention.

The user's quiz performance is tracked over time to see if quizzing improves comprehension and retention.

Obviously there's an assumption that the user is going to read the whole content of everything they open, which is definitely not a valid assumption. However, a sophisticated app may be able assess what the user has read, using the following techniques:

  • The extent to which the user has scrolled down in the page / the amount of text in the visible view
  • The amount of time spent on a page
  • Eye tracking with user-facing camera
The user would be able to customise the service in the following ways:
  • Frequency of quizzes
  • Blocking specific websites / domains from being quizzed on

Friday, 10 July 2015

Price comparison for online grocery / supermarket delivery

Is a price comparison service for online grocery / supermarket delivery likely to happen?

The advantage to the consumer is obvious: they input their grocery requirements into a single website, with the order being fulfilled by the cheapest retailer.

The advantages for the retailer are more complicated. For those that compete purely on price, there is an opportunity to steal business away from higher-priced rivals. For those that compete on product range, there is an opportunity to steal business away from rivals that lack the necessary product range to fulfil an order. Others may just loose business.

There is a typical chicken and egg situation to establishing such a service: the retailers will not want to join unless there is customer volume on the service; consumers will not use the service unless there are sufficient retailers to choose from (and hence they feel like they're getting the best deal).

Probably the biggest problem is distribution. Unlike non-perishable products delivery of groceries requires very localised distribution infrastructure, which limits the number of possible competitors to a particular geographic market. Whilst price comparison services for non-perishable products and for financial products have allowed start-ups and small players to gain visibility and compete, there will necessary be fewer such competitors in the grocery market due to the delivery challenges. And without these small players willing to kick-start the service, it may not be possible to break the chicken/egg deadlock.

It may be possible to layer price comparison over the top of existing web services using web scraping technology. But such an approach is high risk, as supermarkets can quickly change their page structure, resulting in loss of access to information.

For any company aspiring to a global price comparison service for grocery delivery, there are very geographically fragmented markets to contend with (each country / region has different grocery providers). This adds considerably to the complexity of growth.

Another challenge is data interchange: consumers will not want to re-key their order on the selected vendor's own page.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Insulation through turbulence

I wonder whether it would be possible to add structures to the outside of buildings that create more turbulence when the wind blows such as to reduce the rate of heat loss from the building. The idea being that turbulent air moves past the building less quickly, and hence removes heat less quickly.

Risk of loss

I feel as though it is necessary to loose everything, and to experience the worst possible experiences in order to achieve enlightenment. Only then can you have confidence in your own strength to deal with such loss or experience.

Crowd life audit

Online service where individuals submit details about their lives:

  • Their daily routines
  • Their finances
  • The likes and dislikes
  • The state of their relationships
  • Hopes/Dreams
  • Fears/worries
  • etc

The online community review this information (on a voluntary basis) and provides recommendations for action.

Why would people make all this information about themselves available? Because many people are looking for help.

Why would people spend their time reviewing details of other people's lives? Because people like helping people (and are nosy).

It would be possible to keep the information relatively anonymous, depending on what the user submitted.

It would also be interesting to implement a similar crowd life audit concept face-to-face in the community (obviously with no anonymity).

Monday, 18 May 2015

How many possible psychoactive substances are there?

How many possible psychoactive substances are there?

What I want from a music discovery service

I think it's rare to fall in love with a piece of music on first listen. Sure there are track that are that good. But some really good track take a few listens to really appreciate. I hypothesise that between 3 and 10 listens are required to get to know a piece of music to be able to assess whether you like it (the repetition number). I also hypothesise that that 3 to 10 listens must occur over a relatively short period of time, such as a month (exposure window).

So, I want a music discovery service that deliberately repeats tracks to get the exposure necessary to allow assessment. The service would need to record, and hence predict, the number of hours of music each listener listens to on average each day in order to hit the repetition number within the exposure window.

This service would be open to all artists from major labels to indie self-publishers, although the users would be able to select a popularity focus (for example if they're interested in discovering the undiscovered). Artist would be able to upload their tracks, applying tags to give a rough genre description (genres are boxes if you're put in only one, but they're a tool for discovery if you're put in many).

First-time users would be required to sign-up, and select genres of interest, and then begin listening. When they find a track that they like, they star it (and share it), which moves it out of the exposure playlist and into a liked list. The parameters for selecting music for the users exposure playlist would be updated to take account of their preferences, matched against the preferences of other users.

Users would also be able to listen to a playlist of the liked music, starring from these moves the track to a really liked category.

Users would also be able to force a track to be dropped from their exposure playlist or could hit a keep this in for a while button to ensure they get a few more listens before it ends its tenure in the exposure playlist.

The service would store a record all tracks that had previously been in the exposure playlist were not liked, hence ensuring that these are not added back to the exposure playlist. However, this catalogue would be searchable, by date listened to, time, artist, etc to allow users to find music that they only realised they liked a while after. Alternatively, users could choose to listen to a playlist generated from all their previously listened to exposure tracks that they didn't like.

Controls the user could be given over their exposure playlist:

  • Popularity of the track (max / min sales, likes or listens)
  • Popularity of the artist (max / min sales, likes or listens)
  • Genre tags (must have / mustn't have)
  • Year
  • Repetition number
  • Exposure window

Saturday, 21 February 2015


Willpower is one of those rare things that, the more you spend, the more you have. So, spend today's willpower today and worry about tomorrow's willpower tomorrow.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

A suggestion for the improvement in design of a sausage grilling rack

In pursuit of the perfectly evenly grilled and browned sausage I have been thwarted on many an occasion by a sausage's propensity to roll, and the grilling rack's complicity to such rolling. I therefore suggest that sausage require a specially designed grilling rack with a series of relatively sharp (although not as sharp as a knife) points, that vary in position along the length of the sausage, and provide appropriate grip to hold the sausage at any angle to the vertical.

The diagram below illustrates:

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Cycle light pointer towards cyclist

Normally cycle lights are set up to point away from the cyclist, towards the cars in front and behind. Whilst bright, these lights typically provide a small point of light. An alternative, to provide a greater lit area, would be for the cyclist to wear reflective clothing, and have the light sources pointed at the cyclist. This way, the whole of the cyclist is illuminated, providing a larger shape that's more visible and interpretable by drivers. This will be particular effective with a flashing light.

The importance detail to get right in the design of this system is to ensure the light illuminates the cyclist whilst not blinding him/her.

And obviously, this design will be superseded by the soon to be commercialised light-emitting clothing.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Appeal for witnesses app

I know very little about how the police go about looking for witnesses, but my presumption is that appeals for witnesses are either not done or are ineffective for less-serious crimes.

As such, I believe there is an opportunity for an app that will allow citizens to help.

The app would run in the background on the person's smartphone, collecting time / location data (and potentially also mode of transport). When police officer records a crime, it is entered into a database, with the time and location. The app periodically (e.g. every hour) queries the database, and if there's a time / location match, then it notifies the user. The user can then think if they remember seeing / hearing anything, and have the choice to be put in contact with the police.

The key features of this system are:

  • It's entirely opt-in for the users: they choose to download the app, and can choose to uninstall at any moment
  • The potential witnesses' data does not leave their phone - there's no police state where the whereabouts of everyone is tracked
The service could monetise by charging the police forces a small administrative fee per crime uploaded (or per witness provided).

The benefit to the app users is that they can contribute to keeping their community safe (deterring crime through effective policing), with relatively little inconvenience, and no threat to their data.

The benefit to the police is an automated, high-reach way of finding witnesses.

The benefit to the criminals...? Well, hopefully they can be rehabilitated into being productive members of society.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Ultrasound knife

Would it be possible to improve the cutting effectiveness of knives (and other cutting implements) by vibrating them with ultrasound? Potentially a range of ultrasonic frequencies could be used to find the optimum for the material being cut. The knife would be an ultrasound emitted build into it, together with a battery. A set of knives could sit on a charging station (ideally wireless charging so the knives could be sealed units).

Break-even patents

One of the problems with the existing patent system is that the clock starts ticking towards expiry of the patent as soon as the patent is filed, despite the fact that the inventor may need to invest significantly more time before the resulting product can be commercialised.

Whilst not wanting to extend patent protection by an arbitrary amount, one solution would be to give the inventor a choice at the point of filing between a standard 20-year patent, and a break-even patent.

A break-even patent would last until the inventor recovered all costs associated with the original invention an commercialisation, subject to the following criteria:

  • The cost and revenue information would be required to be published
  • The financial reports would have to be audited by an independent auditor, the fees of whom would not be costs counted towards the break-even
  • The inventor must take reasonable steps to commercialise (e.g. accepting offers of support for further development and commercialisation). A key feedback mechanism is that a potential purchaser of the technology could file to have the patent invalidated if the inventor is not progressing with development him or herself, or willing to licence.
  • The patent application costs would not count towards the break-even

Monday, 19 January 2015

Gamification of showering

Showering may well lend itself well to gamification. Firstly, it's possible to get some metrics on what you're doing: time spent; flow rate; temperature. And there's also an objective that people can identify with: shower for shorter to save water and energy, which is good for the environment and good for your wallet.

How might a shower gamification system look? As mentioned, there need to be sensors. A proximity sensor to see that someone had entered the shower, a flow rate sensor, a temperature sensor and perhaps some kind of way to detect who the showerer is without too much hassle (near field sensor to wrist band or smartphone, voice recognition, image recognition, etc).

There needs to be a (touch) screen and a speaker in order to provide visual and audio feedback to the showerer (whilst also playing music, or displaying the news). As the person gets in, the timer starts, and the combination of time, flow rate and temperature are combined to give an overall score.

Scores are compared against the showerer's personal bests, but also against a family leaderboard, custom leaderboards that the showerer joins (e.g. friends / colleagues), and perhaps local, national or global leaderboards.