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>> A netbook is not a laptop substitute!

Wed, Nov 4th 11:46am 2009 >> Tech Toys

A while ago my 15.4" laptop (Celeron 1.5GHz, fairly basic machine) died after a number of years of faithful service. I'd been wanting a netbook for a while and it seemed some were getting to the point of being fast enough to do everything a laptop can do, but in a smaller package. So I ended up with an HP2133. VIA 1.6GHz, 1GB RAM, 120GB disk, very nice keyboard, 1280x768 display, and all the usual stuff like WiFi and Bluetooth. As a netbook goes it's pretty sweet other than problems with sleep and a pathetic 3-cell battery that lasts about an hour. As a laptop-replacement it's been a nightmare. I spend hours every night working from the couch in front of the TV and I figured a netbook with decent resolution would work nicely. Boy was I wrong. For occasional use in emergency situations, or for having a laptop handy while travelling without taking up much space: perfect. Sitting on the couch for 5 hours peering at an 8.9", 1280x768 screen (that's something above 160dpi resolution, folks) leaves me with a headache, a sore back, a sore neck, and my wife telling me that I'll end up permanently crippled. I still like the HP2133 as a *netbook*, but I've come to the conclusion that netbooks are not just small laptops, they're something entirely different and are for a different purpose. So last night I fished out an old Dell Inspiron (an 8200, I think) that had been put on the "too old to bother using" junk pile at IVT and loaded up Ubuntu on it. The battery is stuffed, the hinges flop around, it has no WiFi or Bluetooth, and it sounds like a jet engine but ahhh, the bliss of a 15" screen!

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>> What would you do with 20mm accuracy GPS?

Thu, Aug 6th 12:53pm 2009 >> Tech Toys

On Tuesday night I did a talk at LUV on Geek My Ride (see the post on Practical Arduino for more information if that takes your fancy) but probably the most interesting thing about the night was catching up with Hamish Taylor again and hearing about his crazy-accurate GPS project over at the Dept of Sustainability and Environment. I hadn't even heard of this project but it's already well underway with coverage to 1m accuracy across the entire state, and coverage to +/-20mm accuracy across a significant part of that including the entire Melbourne metro area and well beyond. What they've done is install a bunch of base stations at extremely accurately known positions, each of which reads the location being fed to it via the regular GPS network and figures out how much that varies from its actual known position. It then "publishes" that correction data to make it available to compatible GPS receivers in the area, which then apply the same offset to the position they get from the regular GPS network to correct for local inaccuracies. The result is being able to track your position down to +/-20mm! Very, very cool stuff. Of course this is the same technology that's been available on things like self-driving tractors for years, where a local fixed reference point feeds correctional data to the tractor's autopilot to let it drive around a field all by itself with amazing accuracy. But it's previously been deployed as a point-solution, not just blanketed across the entire state in a frenzy of inspired brilliance. This is the sort of technology that can change so many different things that it's hard to know what to begin with. Self-driving trucks etc is the obvious one, but think about what happens when this tech shrinks from its current $1,500 price tag to being something that's just a part of every phone. Then think beyond that: if GPS with 20mm accuracy could be produced at a low enough cost (I'm talking a few dollars here, a long way from the current reality!) it could be put into pretty much anything that you don't want to lose. Having something located to within 5 or 10 meters like with regular GPS is all fine and well, but it's really only to the point of telling you what room something is in, not whether it's on the left hand side of the third shelf in the kitchen, pushed to the back. So I want ideas, people! What would you do with cheap, ubiquitous positioning technology with +/-20mm accuracy? Let me know! There's more information on the DSE's "GPSnet" project at www.land.vic.gov.au/gpsnet

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>> OpenCV for the MythTV win!

Wed, Apr 8th 8:35pm 2009 >> Tech Toys

At the MythTV Miniconf at LCA2009 this year I did a brief talk about my lame attempts to build a presence-awareness system for MythTV: I want my TV to know when I'm watching it, and if I walk out of the room it should pause until I walk back in. And if I walk into a different room with a TV in it, the program I was watching in the first room should follow me and resume playing from the place it paused itself. Another example of my general "the best UI is no UI" philosophy. I want the world to automatically do the right thing around me in reaction to whatever I'm doing, I don't want to have to control things manually. So anyway, my proof-of-concept used an IR beacon and worked but was kinda sucky. During the talk I said I'd prefer to be running face recognition but hadn't got that far yet, and Bob Edwards piped up with the suggestion that I should look at OpenCV. Well, Bob was right. OpenCV is teh awesome! This is the result of running the facedetect example using the camera in my laptop under the worst possible conditions: low light, side-illumination, and reflective glasses. The red circle is facedetect's overlay showing where it believes it has found a face: Even in those bad conditions it managed to track my face quite accurately as I moved around. Neat! Now to hook this up as an input to my mythpresence code and conceal a camera in the top of the TV bezel...

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>> RoboWars - in Melbourne?

Fri, Apr 3rd 8:49am 2009 >> Tech Toys

I can't believe I haven't heard of this before! How on Earth have I missed it? Robots smashing each other up, right here in Melbourne! Article (with video) on the Ausrobotics site: Robowars 6 is on this weekend in Oakleigh, Vic! (Although not *this* weekend, unfortunately, it's an old story) RoboWars site

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>> Arduino wired into my RX-8

Tue, Mar 31st 9:43pm 2009 >> Tech Toys

My RX-8 has an Alix-1 computer in the boot (thanks to Yawarra!) which is connected to a bunch of devices in the car, including an Arduino wired into the ignition system: More details on www.geekmyride.org

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>> Predicting the future is hard, part 5

Sun, Mar 8th 3:19pm 2009 >> Tech Toys

From: Jonathan Oxer <jon@oxer.com.au> To: [Internal IVT staff mailing list] Subject: RE: [IVT-Staff] Microsoft vision of future technology Date: Fri, 06 Mar 2009 14:32:24 +1100 On Fri, 2009-03-06 at 11:41 +1100, Luke Sparke wrote: > Oh, it's on! Bring it, baby. > Agreed. Need anti-gravity. But you missed the bit about silver suits! I don't want to look like a member of Devo. > The site doesn't even have images loading properly. Forgive me if i'm not > convinced this is off-the-shelf ready to go. It is, at least to manufacturers, and they're using it in things right now. It's even starting to become available to experimenters in the form of development kits that are relatively easy to interface with. Check out this example of Android running on a device with an e-ink display: http://www.epapercentral.com/android-using-eink-proof-of-concept.htm And Firefox running on e-paper which also has pen input: http://www.epapercentral.com/e-inks-new-am-300-developers-kit.htm It's just that we're not seeing a lot of it yet in consumer devices, but we will. And it won't necessarily be in the format of... > Also, the internet was supposed to be the death of newspapers. ...a big newspaper that's floppy and hard to read in a train because it's too big and annoying. You made the point that the problem with predicting the future is that people just think of the things they already have, but made better, and that's exactly right. It's not about e-paper allowing us to have a big floppy newspaper that follows the traditional format, it's about allowing totally new things. Everyday things have their form dictated by the physical characteristics of the materials from which they're made and the ways in which people interact with them. A printed newspaper has its current form because it's dictated by using cheap paper and printing techniques, by the volume of information that has to be contained within it, and by the locations in which people read it. The fact that the Herald/Sun is physically smaller than The Age (but often has more pages) isn't an accident, it's a result of the different audiences for those papers and the physical constraints under which they're read. Read the Herald on a train? No problem, unless it's really crowded. The Age? No chance. I think a point that we agree on is that it's necessary to free our minds from constraints imposed by historical factors and consider totally new form factors that are enabled by new technologies, new usage requirements, and new physical constraints. > I think Murdoch would disagree. I don't. The Internet hasn't killed off printed newspapers yet, but you can hardly claim it hasn't affected them. Newspaper publishing has gone through a huge shake-up over the last couple of years with consolidation and closures, and the newspaper publishers themselves have totally changed the way they manage their journalists and information sources as well as the way they deliver news to customers. > I have no doubt it can be done, but there's no way its economically viable. > Airlines are cutting costs left, right and centre. I'm sure providing > passengers with groovy dynamic tickets is the last thing they're about to > invest in. Most airlines have difficulty just keeping the aircraft in the > air. You're seeing it as an added cost because the unit cost of an intelligent boarding pass is higher than the unit cost of a printed boarding pass. Stop thinking about it that way, and start thinking about the things that could be enabled by changing the whole concept of what a boarding pass is. A similar argument could have been made a few years ago against putting RFID tags on consumer goods or clothing, but now just about everything you buy has them attached. Are they more expensive than a printed price tag? Yes, but that's not the point. They enable a totally different usage profile that removes the need for a human to read a tag and manually type that amount into an old-fashioned cash register. The fact that a printed tag might cost 1/10th of a cent versus an RFID tag costing 3 cents is irrelevant if the tag allows a new, more efficient mode of operation. OK, so you're going to say that a smart-paper boarding pass is going to cost a lot more than 3c. True, for now, but once again that's not the point: if whatever it *does* cost is low enough that it enables some new beneficial mode of operation that we haven't even thought of yet, then it will come into use. > Uhem. An embrella with a glowing handle when it's going to rain is hardly a > multi touch, internet connected device. Didn't see any way to check the > stock reports on the umbrella, nor sync it with my phone. It's not meant to, which is the other point: we need to stop thinking about computers as general-purpose devices that can do a bunch of different things. The use-case for this umbrella is very simple: you're about to leave home and you're not sure if it's likely to rain today. As you're walking towards the door you have two options: divert yourself and check the weather report on TV or online or in the old-style printed newspaper, or look at the handle of your umbrella near the door and see what colour it's glowing. The glowing handle is about smoothing the sequence of events associated with walking out the door, and that's *all* it's meant to do. But if you want stock quotes: http://www.ambientdevices.com/products/marketmaven.html > I wonder how many > people are buying them anyway. It seems to have the moron factor to me. Just about everything has a moron factor before you get used to having it. It's once little things like this are integrated into your daily life that they become a seamless part of it. Just like earlier inventions that seemed to have the moron factor like, oh, the Internet. Or printed books, for that matter. > If > you've got your umbrella with you, do you really need it to glow to tell you > it's raining? "What, what is this wetness falling on me, hang on, i'll > check the umbrella, nope, not glowing, can't be rain". That's missing the point, the use-case is about the moment you're walking out the door, not the time you're out on the street with the umbrella in your hand. > >> (It also seems the people in 2019 will be complete morons, requiring > >> arrows pointing them in the direction to go. > > >I see that as really useful. Having been through places like Changi and > LAX, which is so big it has its own postcode, yes, I'd love to have a > personal head-up navigation >system for just walking around. > > Fair enough. I use signs. Once again start thinking of quite different use-cases that are more specific and personal. We're actually both talking about signs, it's just that the signs you use are coarse-grained (in terms of being general and conveying information likely to be useful to many people) and fixed in place. A personal navigation system is an example of signs that are fine-grained (in terms of conveying specific information that is only of interest to you) and appear in-context. It's not practical for an airport to post signs pointing to *everything*, because the noise drowns out the message. But with the system portrayed in the movie it *would* be practical to have a sign that points to where you need to pick up your bag. And not just a general sign to "carousel 3", I mean a moving sign that leads you right to your exact bag, which the system could have located down to a meter or so accuracy using some other mechanism, and the sign then leads you directly to a specific hire car that you booked, not just to the carpark where you have to find the car you've never seen before in your life with rego ABC-123 among 200 other cars that look identical. It's about granularity of information conveyed: very personal, very specific, and very context-relevant to what you are doing at that moment. > >Yes, interfaces that require large physical movements aren't very > practical. > > You're not doing your argument any favours. Aha, maybe this is part of the issue: I'm *not* trying to defend specific gadgets portrayed in the movie. I'm saying that what they portrayed is conservative, which is not the same thing. If someone in 1900 had said that in 50 years they'd have steam-powered computing machines like the Difference Engine, that would make sense in the context of the technology that they knew about and I'd still say it was conservative. The fact Difference Engines were never built (at the time) and that the end result came about using totally different technology and worked in a totally different way to what they expected doesn't mean their prediction was over-enthusiastic. I'd still call them conservative, because the vision or the intent was achieved even if it was in an unexpected way. > You already made it specific, that the video is "conservative", which means > that at the very least we'll have everything they show, with far more. No, that's a misinterpretation. Saying it was "conservative" meant that what they showed wasn't radical enough, not that we'd get those specific gadgets that work in those specific ways. For all I know what we'll have will be as unexpected as electronic computers to someone who had only ever seen steam-powered difference engines. > That's the wager. That by 2019, everything in the video will be common > place, coffee mugs, airline tickets, arrows on floor, everything. The > stakes... An internet fridge! Already done. See attached. ;-) ** Attachment:

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>> Predicting the future is hard, part 4

Sun, Mar 8th 3:12pm 2009 >> Tech Toys

From: Luke Sparke <**********>
To: [Internal IVT staff mailing list]
Subject: RE: [IVT-Staff] Microsoft vision of future technology
Date: Fri, 6 Mar 2009 11:41:50 +1100

Oh, it's on!

-----Original Message-----
From: Jonathan Oxer <jon@ivt.com.au>
Sent: Friday, 6 March 2009 10:49 AM
Subject: RE: [IVT-Staff] Microsoft vision of future technology

> Flying cars are a crock, at least until there's some way to lift them
> that doesn't involve propulsion by physical action-reaction. A 1T
> flying car needs 10,000N of force >to hover which means massive
> backwash or serious burns and damaged hearing for anyone nearby. It's
> a pipe-dream.

Agreed. Need anti-gravity. But you missed the bit about silver suits!

>> Are you saying that it's conservative to expect foldable electronic
>> newspapers,

> Yes. E-paper technology is practical and has been proven in
> small-scale real world trials to work well. Right now costs are high
> but like all technology it will hit a >point where the price reaches
> a sweet spot and suddenly it will be everywhere. It's already been
> used commercially in advertising posters, and for schoolbooks in the
> Netherlands since January 2007.
>
> http://edupaper.nl/inhoud/welcome

The site doesn't even have images loading properly. Forgive me if i'm not convinced this is off-the-shelf ready to go. Also, the internet was supposed to be the death of newspapers. I think Murdoch would disagree.

> Motorola used the same underlying technology in the display of their
> F3 phone released in Nov 2006 because it was super-cheap. The F3 is a
> phone designed to be very durable and cheap, to be sold into 2nd and
> 3rd world countries. Very thin phone (no glass), long battery life,
> and viewable in full sunlight.
>
> Remember the airline ticket in the movie that showed dynamically
> updating information, and the credit card that did the same? Already
> done by SiPix Imaging using this technology:

> http://www.sipix.com/technology/index.html

I have no doubt it can be done, but there's no way its economically viable. Airlines are cutting costs left, right and centre. I'm sure providing passengers with groovy dynamic tickets is the last thing they're about to invest in. Most airlines have difficulty just keeping the aircraft in the air.

>> electronic coffee mugs etc in 10 years?

> Yes. That's easy. We already have things like umbrellas that connect
> to an online weather service and provide visual display of
> predictions.
>
> http://www.ambientdevices.com/products/umbrella.html

Uhem. An embrella with a glowing handle when it's going to rain is hardly a multi touch, internet connected device. Didn't see any way to check the stock reports on the umbrella, nor sync it with my phone. I wonder how many people are buying them anyway. It seems to have the moron factor to me. If you've got your umbrella with you, do you really need it to glow to tell you it's raining? "What, what is this wetness falling on me, hang on, i'll check the umbrella, nope, not glowing, can't be rain".

> On the other hand, I don't see a coffee mug as a very practical
> general purpose display surface! "Hang on, I'll check my email on my
> mug - oops, I forgot it was full".

Agreed, fails practicality test.

> The point is that considering these sorts of developments is
> *thinking* the right way: it's exploring the possibilities of what
> can happen when everyday objects around us >contain computing power,
> sensors, displays, and connectivity.

No argument there. But if it's about thinking what can be done, it's doesn't go nearly far enough. If it's about what will be common place in 2019, it's way off.

>> (It also seems the people in 2019 will be complete morons, requiring
>> arrows pointing them in the direction to go.

> I see that as really useful. Having been through places like Changi
> and LAX, which is so big it has its own postcode, yes, I'd love to
> have a personal head-up navigation >system for just walking around.

Fair enough. I use signs.

>> I don't know what happens if they're in a real airport, with you know,
>> other people, and you can't see the floor for all the other pairs of
>> shoes. Maybe the guy in front of you will have a multi-touch hoodie,
>> with an update on the back that says "follow me").

> Old technology: head-mounted displays. Big, bulky, ugly, proven,
> reliable.
> Current technology: projection glasses. Look like more normal glasses
> but overlay computer imagery onto what you look at. Once these get to
> the point of looking just like normal glasses it will be socially
> acceptable to use them.
> Future technology: contact lenses. Stick em in your eyes and nobody
> will even know you're wearing them, but your world will be augmented
> with additional information. Will they be on the consumer market
> within 10 years? I don't know, probably not.

All lame. I don't wear glasses or contacts. I want the guys hoddie to be a multi-touch screen internet enabled device, that hooks up with my phone, and knows which way he's heading, and knows which way I need to go, and so tells me "follow me". Actually, i don't want that at all. I use signs.

>> When it comes to predictions of the future, they're usually way off.
>> That's because it's hard to predict what hasn't yet been thought of.
>> Instead people just take what we have now and think of how far it
>> can be taken. Predictions of the future from 10 years ago completely
>> missed social networking.

> True, predicting the future is hard, but it's still fun to try!

It's even more fun pointing out failed predictions!

>> And finally, does anyone actually want computers to work that way?
>> Looked like a lot of effort to me, having to reach up to the screen
>> and move stuff around all the time. In fact, in a reality, what
>> purpose would it even serve? The only reason I would ever need to
>> move anything on the screen would be to scroll, and reaching up to the
>> screen to do that, rather than just spinning the wheel on my mouse,
>> would be prohibitively annoying.

> Yes, interfaces that require large physical movements aren't very
> practical.

You're not doing your argument any favours.

> A lot of "inventing" though is really just about trying things and
> getting unexpected consequences. The interesting thing is not specific
> technologies, it's the unexpected things people use those technologies
> for. Some things work as intended, some sound good in theory or when
> portrayed in a movie but aren't practical, and some things end up as
> something completely different but still cool.

>> So, I say not a snowflakes chance we'll see that in 2019, and would be
>> willing to place a wager as Jeff did with Andrew regarding "All
>> software being online" - the deadline for which has now past.

> Let's make it specific! What exactly has to come to pass (or not) by
> 2019 to decide the wager, who arbitrates, and what stakes shall we
> set?

You already made it specific, that the video is "conservative", which means that at the very least we'll have everything they show, with far more. That's the wager. That by 2019, everything in the video will be common place, coffee mugs, airline tickets, arrows on floor, everything. The stakes... An internet fridge!

However, I'm reminded of high school when a friend bet me $20 in year 7 that by the time we left in year 12 an apple tree would have grown where we used to meet each lunch time. See, every lunch time we would stomp our apple cores into the ground, so he figured that by the time we left, what with all those seeds being pummelled into the ground, surely a tree would grow. I never got my $20. Of course, that was an even wager, $20 either way. If i'm right, then internet fridges will probably be vapourware and you'll have to spend a fortune to get one, if i'm wrong, then it will probably be hard to find a fridge that's not internet enabled, and i'll be able to pick up something off ebay for $50. Might need different stakes.

There is one prediction in that video I have no doubt will be common in 2019, gardens on rooftops. With the environmental hysteria that's around, i'm sure things like that will be commonplace, in fact, forget head mounted displays, we'll probably all be walking around with pot plants on our heads, doing our bit to "save the planet". If your comment about it being too conservative was about the insanity of these green ideas, then I agree, and the bet is off.

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>> Predicting the future is hard, part 3

Sun, Mar 8th 3:11pm 2009 >> Tech Toys

From: Jonathan Oxer <jon@ivt.com.au>
To: [Internal IVT staff mailing list]
Subject: RE: [IVT-Staff] Microsoft vision of future technology
Date: Fri, 06 Mar 2009 10:49:09 +1100

On Fri, 2009-03-06 at 09:52 +1100, Luke Sparke wrote:
> Hang on, 2019? When you look at that date, it looks like some way off,
> everyone in reflective silver suits and driving flying cars future date,

Flying cars are a crock, at least until there's some way to lift them that doesn't involve propulsion by physical action-reaction. A 1T flying car needs 10,000N of force to hover which means massive backwash or serious burns and damaged hearing for anyone nearby. It's a pipe-dream.

> Are you saying that it's conservative to
> expect foldable electronic newspapers,

Yes. E-paper technology is practical and has been proven in small-scale real world trials to work well. Right now costs are high but like all technology it will hit a point where the price reaches a sweet spot and suddenly it will be everywhere. It's already been used commercially in advertising posters, and for schoolbooks in the Netherlands since January 2007.

http://edupaper.nl/inhoud/welcome

Motorola used the same underlying technology in the display of their F3 phone released in Nov 2006 because it was super-cheap. The F3 is a phone designed to be very durable and cheap, to be sold into 2nd and 3rd world countries. Very thin phone (no glass), long battery life, and viewable in full sunlight.

Remember the airline ticket in the movie that showed dynamically updating information, and the credit card that did the same? Already done by SiPix Imaging using this technology:

http://www.sipix.com/technology/index.html

> electronic coffee mugs etc in 10 years?

Yes. That's easy. We already have things like umbrellas that connect to an online weather service and provide visual display of predictions.

http://www.ambientdevices.com/products/umbrella.html

On the other hand, I don't see a coffee mug as a very practical general purpose display surface! "Hang on, I'll check my email on my mug - oops, I forgot it was full".

The point is that considering these sorts of developments is *thinking* the right way: it's exploring the possibilities of what can happen when everyday objects around us contain computing power, sensors, displays, and connectivity.

> (It also seems the people in 2019 will be
> complete morons, requiring arrows pointing them in the direction to go.

I see that as really useful. Having been through places like Changi and LAX, which is so big it has its own postcode, yes, I'd love to have a personal head-up navigation system for just walking around.

> I
> don't know what happens if they're in a real airport, with you know, other
> people, and you can't see the floor for all the other pairs of shoes. Maybe
> the guy in front of you will have a multi-touch hoodie, with an update on
> the back that says "follow me").

Old technology: head-mounted displays. Big, bulky, ugly, proven, reliable.
Current technology: projection glasses. Look like more normal glasses but overlay computer imagery onto what you look at. Once these get to the point of looking just like normal glasses it will be socially acceptable to use them.
Future technology: contact lenses. Stick em in your eyes and nobody will even know you're wearing them, but your world will be augmented with additional information. Will they be on the consumer market within 10 years? I don't know, probably not.

> When it comes to predictions of the future, they're usually way off. That's
> because it's hard to predict what hasn't yet been thought of. Instead
> people just take what we have now and think of how far it can be taken.
> Predictions of the future from 10 years ago completely missed social
> networking.

True, predicting the future is hard, but it's still fun to try!

> And finally, does anyone actually want computers to work that way? Looked
> like a lot of effort to me, having to reach up to the screen and move stuff
> around all the time. In fact, in a reality, what purpose would it even
> serve? The only reason I would ever need to move anything on the screen
> would be to scroll, and reaching up to the screen to do that, rather than
> just spinning the wheel on my mouse, would be prohibitively annoying.

Yes, interfaces that require large physical movements aren't very practical.

A lot of "inventing" though is really just about trying things and getting unexpected consequences. The interesting thing is not specific technologies, it's the unexpected things people use those technologies for. Some things work as intended, some sound good in theory or when portrayed in a movie but aren't practical, and some things end up as something completely different but still cool.

> So, I say not a snowflakes chance we'll see that in 2019, and would be
> willing to place a wager as Jeff did with Andrew regarding "All software
> being online" - the deadline for which has now past.

Let's make it specific! What exactly has to come to pass (or not) by 2019 to decide the wager, who arbitrates, and what stakes shall we set?

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