Archive for the ‘speculation’ Category

Fairy tale

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

Father reading to children: ...and then, no one ever heard the words froyo or vuvuzela or jeggings ever again. And they all lived happily ever after

Winter travel report, 2012

Monday, December 28th, 2009

Hello to everyone! Happy New Year 2012! We just got back from our annual trip to Seattle, and, man, I have to tell you, we had a great time in Tacoma and seeing the relatives, but the one thing that sticks out is that the new travel rules are a bit inconvenient.

Look, I want our flights to be safe just like everyone, and I know the TSA is just doing its job, but having to check all clothing and personal items is a genuine hardship when traveling with kids. First of all, we had picked up the kid-sized robes for them from Long’s, and at first Sammy and Sophie seemed to like wearing the paper, but it was pretty cold at SJC and even colder in Washington. The cardboard slippers are really flimsy and didn’t stay on. Both kids really complained and were shivering. I swear Sophie’s knees were actually knocking. Meanwhile, Kimi and I showed up starkers as required, with just the transparent lanyard for my ID, and the modesty towels that we had to ditch in the bin upon boarding. (It was a tough juggling act to wheel two suitcases through the checkin area while keeping the towel on.) The security line cavity search was fine, finished in about three hours, but then at the gate, the new rules require you go through that cube to put on the TSA-supplied pasties. Well the cube is waaaay too small, and we were all being rushed to board. Then, afterwards, I was pretty self-conscious about having to wear basically a thong. They say they wash them between flights, but honestly it didn’t seem that sanitary to me.

Second, even for a short flight like the two hours from San Jose to Seatac, having to sit so still with no reading material or gadgets is honestly a hardship. The kids were bored after about ten minutes, and I wasn’t much better. The least they could do is put some reading material back on the planes. I know the last attempted terrorist attack involved paper cuts, but I don’t think it was really very dangerous for the flight crew. Maybe they could compromise and put on some magazines printed on tissue paper or something? At least they were playing holiday tunes. We passed the time by telling stories and by about the second hour I got used to not trying to turn my neck to look at my family while talking. And the restraint cuffs weren’t really that bad, although one ankle was a bit chafed by the end.

If you’d asked me three years ago if I thought we’d be required to sit literally stock still in an airplane with 300 other random naked people in order to get anywhere, I’d have told you you were crazy. But these are the times we live in. And to object seems like such pre-2011 thinking.

But next time, we’re just driving, I swear.

“New Wave” no longer means Blondie and The Cars

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

My previous post is entirely null and void, because I have a Google Wave invite now (thanks to Marty Bonner).

Screenshot of Google Wave with the New Wave button highlighted

Google Wave UI has a 'New Wave' button -- Gary Numan would be proud.

I have played with it for all of twenty minutes, so I don’t have any impressions of import to share yet, but:

  1. This is a bit buggier than other betas from Google I’ve played with during the invite phase, like Gmail. (Occasional crashes, buttons not working, things not archiving when I say archive.)
  2. It’s not really that hard to explain. It’s chat combined with e-mail in a post format, except each exchange can be edited by the participants and can be rich in media, and you see the other participants making their edits in real-time, typos and all.
  3. More than anything else, it reminds me of a bug system (such as Bugzilla).

I hereby boldly predict that — for groups collaborating on projects together — this will win. But for non-business uses, regular e-mail will remain more popular for, oh, the next ten years or so.

I’m estephen@googlewave.com. Wave me.

Bug list for Human Body 1.1

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

[Detail of human bones, by Leonardo Da Vinci]I work with engineers, and most of them are driven to improve things. When they spot something that’s inefficient, most of them don’t hold back in offering suggestions, whether it’s about HR, facilities, lunch plans, the design of everyday objects, you name it.

As I was working on bugs today, I got to thinking about these meat shells we wear. If you had the ability to make minor improvements to the design of the human body, what would you change? Body hacking has been around since ancient times (ear piercings have been found in Egyptian mummies, for instance), and we’re entering a world where people can change their appearance profoundly. As genetic engineering advances, ever more startling possibilities are emerging.

So suppose you could tinker with the design of your body. We’re not talking about Human Body 2.0 — no mutant superpowers, not adding two more arms, no Gattaca here. Instead, here are some tweaks that would improve things — point changes and bug fixes, in other words, moving us from the Human Body 1.0 we use today, to the next minor release.

Some of my top priorities:

  1. Bug #551: Single breathing tube is critical bottleneck. It’s just poor design to have no redundancy for breathing pathways, given how critical oxygen flow is. Choking is a very frequent hazard of eating, because food has to go down the same narrow tube that air has to go down. Having two separate tubes (one for food, another always-on for air) is the solution.
  2. Bug #3103: Excessive sleep downtime. Our brains seem to absolutely need at least a few hours for mental health, but if we could compress those REM cycles down and cut out some of the lighter sleep cycles that seem to be useless, we’d increase our overall productivity. I know many who agree that any time spent sleeping is wasted time. We’re not going to get complete sleep removal in 1.1, but if we could improve from 5-8 hours down to 1-2 hours, that would be a critical advance.
  3. Bug #1199: Knees have low MTBF. The knee is an impressively engineered joint, but it too easily wears out under even moderate usage, requiring expensive and invasive surgeries. We seem to have mastered artificial hip replacement, but we’re a long way away from knee replacement. So we’ll have to improve at the source; knees will need some reinforcing and strengthening so that they last longer.
  4. RFE # 60: Bounds checking: Need smart and safe calorie consumption limiter. We’ve all been there: You eat an excellent holiday meal, but afterwards feel like you ate too much and wish you could go back in time and be more restrained. Bulimia is a tragic condition, and could be avoided if there were a safe way to undo eating too much. But instead of something messy, I’m picturing a new system whereby the body calculates how many calories it has taken in for the day, compares that to the desired number, and then for all excess calories, the body would no longer store the excess. Instead, strip out the nutrients normally but then dispose of the rest without storing any excess.
  5. Bug # 1114: Intermittent freezes during flight or flight processing. The other night, as I was putting my nearly-two-year-old daughter Sophie to bed in her crib, my wife and son came in to her room and I turned my back on Sophie. In that time, Sophie started climbing up over the rails of the crib. My wife made an inarticulate shriek, and I turned and froze in horror as Sophie continued to climb over the edge and tumbled head-first to the floor. Fortunately she landed safely on carpet, and was not injured. But my fight-or-flight routine totally failed me. I was paralyzed. This is a sub-optimal response. Fix please.

And one more thing:

  1. RFE # 714: Variable pigment widget. User control for skin color — darker for protection on sunny days, lighter for blending into snow, and any shade desired for fashion and style. Body paint is so messy. Think what a world we’d live in if every single person could set the exact color (purple!) of their skin, anytime they wished.

Seventeen imminent replacements for Twitter

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

You may have read about the recent Twitpocalypse, which has killed off Twitter entirely. Sure, for some users, things may seem fine at twitter.com, but really that’s just fumes. The whole thing has imploded and should be considered an ex-service.

[_itter logo]

Micro-blogging is here to stay, however, so I present to you a smattering of Twitter-replacement sites, each limiting you to 140 characters, that will shortly overtake Twitter in popularity.

  1. Bitter: Angsty updates from divorcees and teenagers.
  2. Litter: Just trash talk, from litterbugs and teenagers.
  3. Fitter: Automatically sends updates every few minutes when you’re working out at Gold’s Gym, from gym rats and teenagers.
  4. Knitter: It’s your grandma’s micro-blogging service. And her related teenagers.
  5. Sitter: Yup, they’re in your house, eating your pizza, watching your TV, talking to their significant others, and sending “seats.” Statistically, most babysitters are in fact teenagers.
  6. Flitter: Changes topics automatically mid-tweet, for those suffering from ADD as well as teenagers.
  7. Quitter: Trying to stop smoking or sniffing glue? This is the micro-blogging service for you; updates from 12-steppers and teenagers.
  8. Spitter: Great expectorations, from watermelon-seed-lovers and teenagers.
  9. Fritter: Some fried apple donut content, but this is mostly a service where the freeps hold a contest to see who can come up with the biggest time-wasting activities. Each minute brings hundreds of hour-squandering suggestions from the idle rich and teenagers.
  10. Glitter: It’s not gold, but it’s got a lot of Mariah Carey discussion, from her fans and other teenagers.
  11. Slitter: An exclusive status-updating site for Jason Vorhees and those he stalks: teenagers.
  12. Ritter: When you roll a seven in Settlers of Catan or eat imported chocolate bars, tweet about it here; from grognards and teenagers.
  13. Titter: Every update brings the LOL, teehee, from nitrous-oxide abusers and teenagers.
  14. Jitter: Red Bull-branded site emphasizing extreme caffeine consumption status updates from Starbucks baristas and teenagers.
  15. Hitter: Very heavy updates, from boxers, Tae Kwon Do masters, and teenagers.
  16. Snitter: This one’s not very different from Twitter, actually.

Of course, there’s another site, and everyone uses it every single day, but modesty demands that the only thing I say about it is that each update from this site consists of just the letters TMI. It’s kind of a crappy service.

Now there’s new SleepBGone, in capsules and tablet. Ask your doctor.

Monday, February 12th, 2007

How would you like it if you could take a pill and not have to sleep more than 2 hours a night? Think of how productive and enriched you could be with a 22-hour day.

My friend Aaron blogged about drug developments in the area of sleep elimination recently (following a brief Popular Science mention). In the comments, one blogger related his own experiences with so-called polyphasic sleep, and pointed out the biggest barrier to him was sore eyes.

I’ve read (in Dr. Ferber‘s books among other places) that absent light and other cues, the natural human condition is a 25-hour cycle of monophasic (i.e., one big chunk o’) sleep. I think my own preference would be something like a 30-hour day: 20 hours of wakefulness and 10 hours of sleep. Unfortunately that’s just not realistic. I can get by with 5 hours of sleep a night for a week or so, but then need to catch up. Kimi really seems to need 8 or 9 hours. Sammy is cranky without 13 (11 hours overnight, then a 2 hour nap in the afternoon).

It seems like we’re probably still a few years off from a no-sleep pill being generally available, and even then it will come with costs. The extra hours will probably be only fit for “zombie tasks” since it appears creative thinking generally isn’t available during the period where you’d normally be sleeping except for the pill preventing you. And there are those sore eyes. I also suspect that long-term studies will uncover other problems, including possibly increased vulnerability to colds and infections, decreased motivation, increased depression (since the extra wakeful hours are likely during darkness and therefore prone to seasonality-related depression).

Still, imagine if, starting in high school, Sammy didn’t need to sleep. He would then in theory be able to complete high school, college, and an MBA in five years, and enter the work force with a high-paying job at 19.
Fiction reading homework assignment: Read the book Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress.