Thursday, February 12, 2009

Watch Dogs - I mean YOU Watch THEM...

Thoughts of a technical solution for stray dogs brewed in my brain after my dogs had been AWOL for 18 hours... here's the product idea I came up with.

The Dog Cell Phone!

Great, huh? ...although some less creative thinkers might be hitting their browser's 'home' button about now... Wait!! Let me explain further! Please?

One key bit of the whole idea came from this news article - about how you can allow folks to see where you are on Google Maps with a GPS cellphone and the right cloud-computing-app.

Then the fill in ideas started...
  • A harness that holds the phone securely between the dog's shoulder blades...
  • Special features for the phone - it auto answers for pre-selected caller ID numbers so your dog can hear your voice commands where ever he/she might roam. It won't answer any other number nor will it 'ring'.
  • It has no unneeded features - so it's CHEAP ;)
Just consider the high end market for such devices...!

'Yes, darling, my dog does have his own cell phone - doesn't yours??'

Later, we can add a camera to the high end model...

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Found - and Lost Again, Thank Heavens...

They know where you are.

Oooo… Scary, huh? But unfortunately, it could be true. If you are on the Internet (a bit of a no-brainer there, since you are – I mean, you are reading this on the Internet, right?) then you can be located with surprising accuracy.

Is this news to you? Want to check it out further? Then take a moment and examine this: Geode
I’ll wait here while you convince yourself. Granted, this particular tool is careful to request your permission to gather location information about you, but that is because it’s a nice application.

If Geode can find you from your connection information, so can anyone else out there – good or bad.

Sometimes, the location information is used in a general way to tailor advertisements to your local area, or merely pick your most-likely native language. Other times less friendly usage is intended – adding you to spam lists with derived personal information attached (called spear fishing).

I bet you wish you hadn’t explored those wacko fringe websites now, eh? Are you ready to hang up your web browser??

Never fear – there are ways to be safer, if you wish. One of these methods is to use something called an Onion Browser – so called because layer after layer of re-direction is involved. The king of onion browsers is TorPark – found here: Tor

Using TorPark, you appear to be in Italy one moment, California the next, and so on it goes…

There is a price, and that’s speed. All that re-direction causes a slow-down in loading web pages. Some places will not allow you to visit via TorPark, because they can’t verify who you are – and Google is one of those places.

Makes you wonder about Google, eh?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Invert your Gas Mileage

We are being misled in our yearnings for greater and greater gas mileage!
Yes, it came as a shock to me too… but the fact remains that bigger numbers for gas mileage aren’t an honest indication of fuel efficiency!

Consider the following thought experiment to see what I mean: say you had two cars, one that got 16 MPG and one that got 25 MPG. You can either upgrade your 16 MPG car to another 25 MPG car, or you can replace your 25 MPG car with a 40 MPG car (but not both, nor can you go from 15 MPG to 40 MPG, for some unexplained reason. Stick to the given rules.). Question: which is the better choice?

If you said “Well, I’d gain 15 MPG by going from 25 MPG to 40 MPG and I’d only gain 9 MPG by going from 16 MPG to 25 MPG…” that’s exactly the wrong answer.
Now, if you looked at car efficiency as “Gallons Per Mile” (not abbreviated GPM –that’s the official abbreviation for “Gallons Per Minute”… Let’s use “G/M”) you would clearly see the flaw in the logic… 16 MPG is 0.0625 G/M, 25 MPG is 0.04 G/M and 40 MPG is 0.025 G/M. Using those units, it’s clear that changing out the lower mileage car is the bigger gain (0.0225 G/M vs. 0.015 G/M gain).

Further, the financial gain is much more dramatic when you give up the gas-guzzler as compared to going for super-efficiency. Let’s say that you drive an average of 1,000 miles a month on each car. For this example, we will say gasoline is an average of $3.50 a gallon.

Note that G/M is a handy unit to do this calculation with – the gas guzzler uses 62.5 gallons and the better mileage car uses 40 gallons for a total of 102.5 gallons, which costs $358.75

If we swap the gas guzzler for a medium-efficiency 0.04 G/M car we save $78.75 a month. If we go for the gas-sipping car in place of the middle of the road car, we save only $52.50 a month.

It gets even more dramatic as MPG figures get even higher – you are lead to believe that a 100 MPG car is a far more fuel efficient vehicle than a 50 MPG car, but in truth the difference is slight – in our prior example, only 10 gallons of gas a month, or $35 dollars.

Where this really all comes into play is when you consider the high purchase prices commanded by super-mileage cars vs. medium-mileage ones. Going with the middle of the road model will almost always get you a better payback than paying a premium for a misleading high MPG figure!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Curing Hunger

I heard again recently the all-too-familiar proclamation that “…we have the power to end world hunger…”, the implication that we’re just to mean and self-serving to Do The Right Thing left hanging in it’s wake (for a very few, I suppose that’s true)...

So I thought about the complex issues associated with hunger again, and here’s the solution. Well, first, there’s the little problem with the simple solution

The simple solution goes like this: give everyone the basic necessities of food – oh, and throw in shelter and… healthcare too. Do this by Robinhood-istic means; leveling off the personal and corporate economic peaks and using that monetary soil to fill in the valleys of poverty. Sounds lovely.

Here’s the key issue with the simple solution: motivations. You always must consider motivation when dealing with humans, it’s like making water flow the way you wish to direct it – a subtle tilt causes a pooling, or a rushing erosion where you might least expect.

So let us consider motivation’s impact on the simple solution. Let’s ask why someone would keep ‘excess’ wealth when there are hungry people. For that matter, let’s ask why some perfectly healthy people fall so far in poverty as to come to the point of wondering where their next meal might come from. (Granted that there are a number of folks who are not capable of providing for themselves – to which there is the counter point of many social mechanisms to provide for such folks existent today.)

People are motivated to accumulate wealth in excess of their basic needs because of a desire for social standing above their peers, for security for their future and their family’s future, and in some extraordinary cases, because it’s what they are good at and enjoy (Warren Buffet is a prime example).

People fall into poverty due to some handicap (physical, mental or social) which prevents them from fully participating in active economic production. I include even what most would call ‘lazy slobs’ and ‘social misfits’ as handicapped in this definition.

Those two dichotomous forces are the prime movers in an un-repaired view of society. But think on how things change should you don your hood and bow to take from the rich and give to the poor – via government and law.

First, the motivation for productivity evaporates… Why struggle to gain that which is taken from you? Sure, there’re degrees of shading to how much is taken/retained, but the root effect is still there – productivity slackens. Second, the motivation to escape poverty through increased productivity vanishes – by degrees, as with wealth accumulation.

The water flows down hill. More folks fill the ‘welfare roles’ and the production of worth grinds to a halt. That is, until the top-heavy system collapses.

Which means there’s not and easy fix, right? WRONG!! Read on, and keep the idea of motivation to the fore…

Is there a way to feed/house/care for everyone and yet have a healthy and competitive economy? Yes, I believe there is… First, let’s establish a set of motivations for both increasing productivity and escaping total social dependency – provide food, basic shelter, and healthcare to all – but exclude any form of entertainment from this dole.

That is, no TV, no music, no sports, no arts will be provided gratis – those things must be earned. That means no club visits, no parties unless you worked for it.

Great motivation, eh?

(Ah, if it were only so easy… like water, humans will get around any attempt to keep them on the straight and narrow path. In this case, consider the idea of unsanctioned forms of entertainment - which would rapidly become the ONLY forms).

I’ll keep working on it…

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

How to Talk to Your Kids

Um, you aren’t expecting me to give you some stunning psychological insights into the younger generation, are you? I am good for a bit of info on the nifty techno-tricks available and adopted by the younger, more flexible minds out there, however…

More and more convenient communications gadgets are coming out. iPhones, Blackberries, Kindle book reader with cell phone internet built in…

They are all excellent ways to coerce your children at a distance!!

Your kids have probably integrated themselves into the world of the cell phone, ‘texting’ classmates, carrying their cell phone where ever they wander…

The side effect of all this technology is that there’s currently a ‘secret’ realm of communication inhabited by the masters of ‘texting’ – old, slow parental types automatically excluded by lack of skill.

We can invade this semi-private domain by treachery, ambushing our kids at will. Here’s how:

Almost all cell phone text messaging systems offer an EMAIL link, even pay-as-you-go types like Tracfones. Each provider has an EMAIL address setup, usually ##########@providersnet (where ########## is the ten-digit cell phone number with area code, and providersnet varies – for example ‘’ for AT&T (cingular) phones…)

Some handy tools to help establish your EMAIL-to-cell-phone-text link: - type in the area code, exchange and first digit of the last four digits and this handy site tells you who the cell phone provider is. From that, and this site - – you can figure out the EMAIL address needed to send text messages to a cell phone.

Even us ancient relics of bygone eras usually can manage to fat-finger in a lengthy EMAIL message... It's much easier than texting via cell phone keypad!

Just imagine the expression on your dear child’s face when he or she realizes that mom can nag at them via text messages!! Priceless!!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

When Lower Quality is Better – Medical??

What’s better than the very best medical imaging device? How about 100 smaller, cheaper, newer technology (maybe even hand held) imagers at the same price??

The issue at hand is that for many years a number of factors (chief amongst them lawsuits) have pushed medical equipment down a one-way street of reliability at any cost, and safety at any cost. This sounds like a good thing on the surface, but the unintended side effects are literally killing us.

Let me enumerate the downside for you:

  1. Price – from my own personal experience working in engineering at a respected medical imaging device manufacturer, I came to see the problem that I summarize as “Your medical dollars at play”. Cost was so far down the priorities and expectations lists as to be no consideration in designs. Costs that you ultimately pay, which probably make you hesitate to get medically imaged.
  2. Old reliable technology – the very newest technology is always less tried and true than last year’s hardware, so the priority for ultimate reliability effectively kills any consideration for brand-new (read: more powerful, smaller and less costly) electronics.
  3. Premium performance requirements – most middle-of-the-road newer tech devices can beat older top-of-the-line ancestor devices at half or less of the cost. However, since cost is not really an object, the usual knee-jerk response to such design decisions is to go right to the top shelf.
  4. Slow fielding – dramatically unlike retail devices of similar complexity, it can take years to get a medical device from initial engineering to the doctor’s office. For retail consumer devices, mere months.

Lest you get the image of a shoddy, squeaking CAT scanner dumping God-knows how much X-ray radiation into you in the place of that humming smooth model in the hospital, let me add some sanity checks.

Fail-safe, meaning “If you fail, it will do no harm” is a far easier design criteria than “Thou Shalt Not Fail”. Add to that the fact that having a cheap back-up unit is better than an expensive single unit and you begin to see where I am coming from.

Very much like computers of 1980 (remember the air-conditioned shrine of the VAX?), medical imaging devices have their own rooms with acolytes (I mean, medical technicians) and priests (doctors).

Now picture Dr. McCoy’s medical Tricorder from Star Trek, only everyone gets one, and it’s like the digital thermometer in the medicine cabinet at home…

That’s what quality at all costs has cost you.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

More Amazing Gadgets

I freely admit it. Interesting devices catch my eye every time… new or old.

Here’s a bit of both: a Steam Punk Laptop – i.e. what a laptop might have looked like in the Victorian Era, if computers could be clockwork gears…

There are a number of novels about fictional worlds based upon the early advent of computing, and some folks with a lot of time on their hands took the subject way too seriously…

WARNING: be prepared to get a shiver up your spine! This 'Big Dog' robot is so lifelike in it’s motions and in how it recovers from kicks, slips and stumbles that it for all the world looks like a headless animal walking around. Download the video for full effect!!