Archive for February, 2008

Driving Force of the Singularity

Monday, February 25th, 2008

TRS80 Model 1 ComputerTechnical advances are coming at a seemingly unstoppable pace. Between eighteen months to three years, technologies experience a doubling in performance or capacity, and still manage to get cheaper. But as new as new gadgets come out to satisfy our current problems or desires, we find ourselves with even more problems to be solved and grander dreams.

Fading Away Into Oblivion

Friday, February 22nd, 2008

Floppy Disk DriveRecently Toshiba called it quits with HD DVD. This means that the million plus people who gambled on the format now have movies and data whose time in this world is short. Any data on a HD DVD disk now needs to be moved elsewhere while readers are still available. This isn’t the first time a format has come and gone. It happened with Beta cassettes back in the VHS vs. Beta war. Cassette tapes largely replaced by CDs, vinyl records have become harder to find. An old magnetic tape drive or even older paper tape reader is pretty much only to be found in museums. Punch cards have long since left this world. It will not be much longer before you will have to mail in 35mm film to get pictures developed. 35mm used to be a common format, but has nearly been replaced by digital cameras. Digital methods of adding simulated film grain will likely convert the few holdouts. With Blu-ray’s recent victory in the format wars, the DVD’s days are numbered, just as VHS tapes’ days have been for a while.

The All Knowing Digital Personal Assistant

Wednesday, February 20th, 2008

Account AggregationThese days there are many web sites and programs that help organize aspects of our lives. They help to aggregate a particular aspect such as bank accounts, phone services, instant messaging, email, calendars, passwords and more. These sites or applications bring together diverse accounts into one convenient location. However, in return for the convenience we need to hand over personal information so the service can log in to various sites automatically. How much risk do we take by using these integration tools? For something like a feed reader where we don’t have to provide anything personal, there is not much risk. However, that all changes when it comes to money, email, and so much more.

Household Cleaning Robots

Sunday, February 17th, 2008

Honda's Asimo humanoid robotiRobot has been steadily increasing their line of cleaning robots. They currently provide floor vacuuming (Roomba), moping (Scooba), pool cleaning (Verro), and gutter cleaning (Looj). These robots work well in limited domains, but not a one would help with cleaning the car. The flat environment of a room is no comparison for the complexity of a car’s interior. A robot like Honda’s Asimo seems like it would make for a better all around house cleaner. Instead of having a separate robot for each chore, it is more desirable to have a single robot that can vacuum, mop, clean the gutters, wash dishes, clean the car, mow the lawn, wash the windows, and so much more.

Are you being watched? Or just being paranoid?

Thursday, February 14th, 2008

Traffic CamerasIf I were paranoid I would think I was being watched… Oh, wait, I probably am being watched. The number of surveillance cameras around seem to multiply faster than weeds. Today I was driving down the freeway and every few kilometers a traffic camera would appear. Sometimes the camera covered all lanes, other times just the fast lane, sometimes easy to spot, other times hard to see. Some are fixed in place, others are remote controlled. These cameras are not just hanging around the roads; they are at the banks, public buildings, stores, and just about everywhere we go. They are a bit more subtle than the paparazzi, but watching none the less.

The Future of Paper

Monday, February 11th, 2008

Various uses for paperEnder’s Game introduces computerized desks where students look up information, organize their homework, and yet still have to print their assignments. Leap Frog has a second generation “pen computer” which uses special FLY paper as a digital tablet. The pen computer from Livescribe even adds sound recording and playback. Digital napkins are being proposed for engineering doodling. Printer paper is getting the “ink” embedded into it instead of in cartridges with Zink. E-Ink is the catchphrase for use in low power digital displays. With so many paper and ink variants coming out, what is it we really want?

Techno-tutoring for Learning Musical Instruments

Saturday, February 9th, 2008

Pair of violinsTrying to learn how to play an instrument is hard work. Typically lessons are once or twice a week with the time in-between spent practicing. When getting started it is hard to keep track of the tempo, fingering positions, and other instructions present in the musical score. Learning to play is one area of our lives technology does not effectively support. There are many technology inspired instruments, but few learning aids.

Airport Security

Friday, February 8th, 2008

DC30 nose sectionAirport security is one area of our lives that hasn’t improved over time. It used to be that you could walk to the gate to say goodbye to friends and family, but not any more. In a post 9/11 world, fear and paranoia have made travel much less convenient. For international travel the countries involved need to cross-check passengers to make sure they are not security risks. In some airports shoes have to be removed and x-rayed. Coats need to be x-rayed. Computers removed from the bag for separate scanning. Even mp3 players are being banned. Our bags are swiped for explosive residue. Our drinking bottles are confiscated or scanned for explosives as well. Restrictions on the weight of lithium-ion in batteries which can be brought on board recently appeared. How much gel and cream one can have. How these items need to be carried. More and more of our flight experience is being regulated.

Wearable computers

Wednesday, February 6th, 2008

Primitve Wearable ComputerThe ability to record every moment of your life is attractive. With the shrinking of video cameras, ever growing memory capacity, and increasing capabilities of portable lightweight computers we are approaching the point where this is possible. For a memory jogger the highest resolution, and highest sound quality shouldn’t be necessary. However, the ability to capture everything seen and heard would be a minimum. Increasing field of view and range of hearing would be a beneficial augmentation. Combining these capabilities with ear phones and viewer would allow for quick playback. Missed conversations, reviewing items read, seen, or heard would be easy to review. “What did you say your name was?”, would be a phrase of the past. The location is also a must capture to put the recordings into context.

Powering gadgets on long trips

Tuesday, February 5th, 2008

Travel Charging KitOn long bus and plane rides it helps to pass the time by watching movies, getting work done, and reading. Except for the reading part, all of these activities require power. Unfortunately most long haul buses and economy flights don’t have power connections for everyone. Often in economy you are lucky if there is one outlet every three rows. Unless you are in Taiwan, it is unlikely you’ll find a bus with power outlets. In the waiting lounges it is getting harder and harder to find an outlet to recharge computer or cell phone. Airport outlets that used to be available are being removed or locked. Similarly, it would be hard to imagine finding an outlet at a bus stop.