Glow In The Dark Streets

Wired has an interesting article on the use of glow in the dark paint on roadways. It seems like an ingenious way to cut power consumption for street lights. I’m not entirely sure I really get the point of the temperature sensitive warnings though. The road getting icy when cold is generally common sense. It seems like it would be better if cars were just required to display outside temperature and perhaps have an audible alarm when it drops below freezing. The cost of this in a modern car would be relatively low as the electronics needed are all cheap. The added benefit would be both a visible (dashboard light) and audible (tone) warning.

Simple ideas can change things.

On Hold

I’ve spent a few hours of the last few days on hold waiting for customer support representatives (CSR). It’s a task that drives everyone nuts. Services like GetHuman.com are pretty useful, but still hardly a solution.

A few companies now have “call me back” functionality where they will essentially just call you back when the CSR is available rather than make you wait on the line. It strikes me as strange that more companies don’t rush to implement this ASAP. For starters given most of these numbers are 800 numbers, they are footing the phone bill. They also need to have the capacity to have all these calls on hold for sometimes an hour. These costs can’t be trivial. I would think a system that keeps customers happier and reduces your telecom needs would be a win/win. I’m also betting some patent prevents this from being an easy to implement solution.

This is why when given the choice I prefer the online chat option. I can work with it in the background. It’s quiet, not disruptive and much more pleasant.

Microwave UI Patents

Joël Franusic has an interesting theory that the reason microwaves have so many different UI’s is because patents make it difficult for them to share a similar interface. Like Joël, I’m not totally convinced, however I do suspect this is at least part of the problem. I also think it goes way beyond just microwaves, that particular appliance is just a great example. The end result is the products created, and the users who buy and use them loose out. If you skim through some of these patents, it seems pretty obvious and hardly innovative, even for the times.

Patents will be the downfall of technology and innovation in America if it’s not reformed.

Will Touch Screens Ever Take Over?

I tend to agree with David Pogue in his latest Scientific American piece on why touch screens will not take over. Perhaps it is possible for touch screens to solve for all these problems, but I think the energy could be better spent on something superior to touch screens.

It’s not that I think touch screens are going away, I just don’t think it’s the ideal medium for larger touch screen interfaces. In my mind, the Iron Man J.A.R.V.I.S. is the perfect example of where we will eventually get. Where AI (Siri’s mature brother) and touch interfaces have merged to become a more intuitive and usable user experience.

Touch does have it’s place in interaction, both in the physical world as well as the cyber world. However just as we don’t feel our way through the world, I don’t think touch screens will ever be a solid solution for interacting with technology. We’ll find a hybrid that lets the user decide what method works for them at a given moment and a given task.

NTP Server Reverts to 2000

From the ISC Diary:

A few people have written in within the past 18 hours about their NTP server/clients getting set to the year 2000. The cause of this behavior is that an NTP server at the US Naval Observatory (pretty much the authoritative time source in the US) was rebooted and somehow reverted to the year 2000. This, then, [propagated] out for a limited time and downstream time sources also got this value. It’s a transient problem and should already be rectified. Not much really to report except an error at the top of the food chain causing problems to the layers below. If you have a problem, just fix the year or resync your NTP server.

Doesn’t look like this impacted me at all, if it did logs and graphs would look funny. This however is quite freaky. Curious if this had any bigger impacts like financial transactions. You would think they would have some sort of check for strange NTP updates as a clock drift of 12 years is out of the ordinary, but anything is possible.

I’d also be curious to know how that server reverted to the year 2000. Perhaps it was something as simple as the CMOS battery died.

US Army Is Interested In 3D Printers

From BBC:

By putting 3D printers behind the front line it hopes to be able to produce spares more cheaply and quickly than it can get them from manufacturers.

The army embarked on the project to produce its own printer as commercial devices were too expensive.

Early versions of the printer cost $695 (£436) compared to $3,000 (£1,880) for a commercial model.

It makes total sense if you think about it. One of the biggest weaknesses in Iraq for a long time were supply convoys. They were constantly being attacked and subjected to IED’s. Keeping the front lines supplied is critical to any battle. If they could refabricate just a few critical things it would reduce the impacts of this vulnerability.

Of course one also wonders why the military, especially after Iraq doesn’t stress alternative full supplies more than they do. One in eight casualties was due to fuel supply convoys. It’s apparently something they are working hard on. It would be a major strategic victory if they had such technology they could rely on. Perhaps in the future, our military on the front lines will actually be self sufficient and not relying on convoys to bring supplies. It would save many lives.

Not to mention, applying these things to other non-military uses would be a major win too. Imagine being able to deploy such capabilities to a natural disaster. First responders would be much more productive than they are capable of being today.

Logistics is expensive, and time-consuming at best. Reducing logistics makes dangerous situations better. These technologies can and likely will eventually change the world and how our military and first responders will respond to a crisis. It’s pretty impressive to see where things are headed.

Recharge Your Phone With Fire

BioLite iPhone Charger - Charging With Fire

BioLite CampStove isn’t cheap at $130, but it’s a neat way to charge a gadget when you don’t have power handy. Given the way the past few weeks have been here in the north east this thing is actually getting some attention. I personally keep a generic USB battery pack in my bag for emergency charges. I think that’s still more useful in general since I’m often places where I could use a boost but an open flame would be inappropriate or more likely: illegal.

Jeff Hawkins On Early Laptops

Jeff Hawkins, founder of Palm and Handspring on why the first Laptop had trouble in the market:

This is an amazing fact. We had this product. It was designed for business executives. And the biggest obstacle, one of the biggest obstacles, we had for selling the product was the fact — believe it or not — that it had a keyboard. I was in sales and marketing. I saw this first-hand. At that time, 1982, business people, who were in their 40s and 50s, did not have any computer or keyboard in their offices. And it was associated with being part of the secretarial pool or the word processing (remember that industry?) department. And so you’d put this thing in their office and they’d say, “Get that out of here.” It was like getting a demotion. They really were uncomfortable with it.

Meanwhile today it’s pretty much unimaginable to me that an office wouldn’t have a keyboard. Out with the old, in with the new.

Getting Heart Rate From Video

From the creatives folks at Fitbit:

The basic idea is that the color of your face fluctuates slightly as blood perfusion under the skin changes from your heart’s pumping. If you measure the color change, you can measure heart rate. It sounds simple, but it’s not. One thing that makes this difficult is user motion: if the person being measured moves, it becomes difficult to disentangle cardiac-induced color changes from changes in lighting conditions on the face, rotations of the face, etc. But in some cases, we’re actually able to filter out some of this motion. Pretty cool, right?

This is hardly polished technology, but the idea is that you can get heart rate by looking at skin color changes. This is really pretty impressive. It’s a pretty clever approach. I’d be curious how well it transfers from using older film to using some modern 1080p broadcast quality video. Does the accuracy improve?

Project 1794

Project 1794 Flying Saucer

Pretty cool records recently declassified. From ExtremeTech:

The aircraft, which had the code name Project 1794, was developed by the USAF and Avro Canada in the 1950s. One declassified memo, which seems to be the conclusion of initial research and prototyping, says that Project 1794 is a flying saucer capable of “between Mach 3 and Mach 4,” (2,300-3,000 mph) a service ceiling of over 100,000 feet (30,500m), and a range of around 1,000 nautical miles (1,150mi, 1850km).

Looks a lot like the Avrocar in many respects. I wonder how many UFO reports in that era were perhaps manned or unmanned tests of this aircraft. I’d imagine it’s possible that while this is now declassified, the US Government still isn’t going to admit to what degree it was tested.