Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Wiki as a Meta-cortex

The human mind is a wonderful thing. It performs complex visual analysis, can restructure itself on the fly and and determine solutions to extraordinarily complex problems. It does however have problems with retaining discrete packets of information. There are basic ways to increase ones capacity for remembering arbitrary stings of information, such as mnemonics, but often these require invoking longer strings with stronger associations before being able to recall the specific data needed. (This can be reversed, especially if the information in question is an abstract, as the associated mnemonic can be an abbreviation of the key elements in the abstract.) However, these types of associations work best when they are accessed frequently. For those that are used infrequently it can be much harder to retain a useful memory. Personally, I feel that this is acceptable, at least in that it does not really hinder any day to day interactions. The area where infrequent recall of arbitrary strings is most vital is in the use of computers. Passwords and user names are not necessarily used on a daily basis, especially for things such as online banking. However, it is important to be able to recall these rapidly and accurately, as they control the flow (or lack thereof) of your money, and can impact other portions of our lives as we function more in the digital realm.

Mitigating the impact of the shortcomings of short term memory can likely be implemented in a software setting. Using a user populated personal wiki to manage data outside of one's head is a viable option. The customizable file structure, the ability to embed content and then search it using tags or keywords makes wikis ideally suited to the task of personal data storage. Coupling a reasonably secure wiki with a sandboxed hardware device would allow the user to carry a significant amount of data with them at any given time. In and of itself having readily search able data is useful, if it could be tied to location or visual cues it would also be a prompting system, providing pertinent information without user input.

The main limitation thus far is twofold: commonly available webcams do not have a high enough resolution to accurately identify visual cues and its hard to put enough processing power in a portable to analyze video in real time, especially at high res.

None of this is new. And its not necessarily hard either. It just simply hasn't been done widely yet. I think that it should be.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

in·for·ma·tive (adj.)

Informative is an adjective applied to things that inform us. What it shouldn't be applied to is Asus's promotional materials for the EeePC 701. I'd like to know what operating systems the EeePC supports, what the hard dive capacity is like, perhaps even how much RAM it has. Thank goodness that Asus set me straight on that count. According to their promotional materials, all I need to know is that its apparently easy to use, moderately attractive people enjoy holding it and biking (but not at the same time), and that elderly actors can act amazed at a blank screen. Wonderful.

That aside, the EeePC looks pretty good. According to mildly more informative sites, it will have 512mb RAM, a SSD, a sporty 7" screen, as well as a built-in web cam and Wifi. All for ~$200, releasing sometime in August. While the specs may not be as high as the Foleo or NanoBook, a $200 price point (assuming it stays that low) is excellent. This would be an excellent class/travel/wearable at this price and power.

Monday, July 16, 2007


Ramen is delicious, unless of course you eat it in the manner its creators intended. It is a sandwich sized block of extruded starch noodles, essentially a massive cracker. So, toss out that flavor packet (thats where most of the sodium comes from, so immediately you've improved the nutritional content of the meal), split the block of noodles along the seam and toss your favorite ingredients in, sandwich style. So far peanut butter, hot dogs and cheese all go well on ramen. I think essentially any sandwich could be built on ramen, and anything the goes well with crackers would work too. So, why is this superior to bread, the defacto choice for sandwiches? Well, the short answer is, it isn't. It lacks the nutritional benefits of a good wholewheat, the taste of sourdough or the texture of French bread. But what it does have going for it is price and convenience. I got all my ramen free, thanks to the spring move out. And unlike bread, ramen doesn't mold, preventing the significant losses that bread mold incurred me last year. Don't expect a great culinary experience when using ramen, but its texture can be fun, and it does have its economic benefits. You can also add ramen to a can of soup to add more bulk to it, but don't use the flavor packet, ever. The flavor packet is a tiny dose of salty death, and tastes like crap. But you can do anything you want with the noodles.
Robert Alverson


Friday, July 13, 2007

Summer Projects

Ah, the most joyous part of summer: free time. I had a lot of very clever ideas about what I should do with my free time this summer, most of which were elaborate, micro controller based, or just plain crazy. Admittedly, the best projects are those that involve some level of absurdity and originality; the virgin Mary toaster, the knock based keyless-entry system, and the LED disco dance floor are notable contributions to this field. I am currently gravitating towards some sort of wearable useful device. The other day I very proudly designed a cheap, portable and wearable clock. Of course, about 5 minutes later I realized I had re-invented the LCD wristwatch... I abandoned that plan and stumbled across this gem in my Feed: " Alarming ring." I realized this was both brilliant, and a terribly limited device. I think it would be awesome to implement this as a wristband that can pulse you messages in Morse code. Add a Bluetooth or other wireless link so that it can update on the fly from Google Calender or whatever. I think the main limitation here would be battery life, as a wristband sized package does not leave much space for a high capacity battery, and it would defeat the purpose of the device to have to take it off at night to charge it. Charging via induction using a coil mounted in a home or office desk would likely be best solution in terms of usability.

In a related area, making a PipBoy 2000 would be awesome. If i ever have an entirely free summer and several thousand dollars for a project, I think that it would be totally worth it. I mean, who wouldn't love a 50's futuristic wearable/hand held computer?
Robert Alverson


Wednesday, July 11, 2007

What a Car

They just don't build them like they used to. In one of my psudo-random searches through the Internet I came across this car, made in the epic style of the pre-gas crunch. The intense fenders, the sharp nose, and the acres of hood are awesome. I really like this car; if Christine had be written in the '50s this would have been the car it was modeled on. According to the title of the pictures (I found no other information) this is a 1949 Delayhe 175. Picture credits unknown, 2 more are on my Flickr.

Monday, July 9, 2007


"The behemoth lay in low curves on the ground, silent. The sun glinted off of its slick blue and white carapace, making a ghostly reflection of itself on the close-cropped grass."

Some days, I wish we could return to the style of the 40's and 50's. Sweeping curves, high gloss two tone paint jobs, lots of chrome. Technology was the new thing, and absurd and occasionally useful devices were everywhere. Gas was cheap and the cars were big, decadent symbols of the booming American economy. The future was sunny, populated by friendly robots who would help around the house, atomic powered airplanes that would fly from New York to Paris in an hour, and happy loving families.

I wonder what is so comforting about fantasies like this. Why is steampunk becoming a more mainstream (well, at least closer to it than most tech culture) aesthetic? It is a particularly odd time to revisit the straitlaced and psudo-scientific Victorian culture as we are currently attempting to create an enlightened scientific culture. The DIY crowd has also seen a resurgence, as outlets such as "Make" and "" tell you how to make things you never even knew you wanted to make. Is it simply that our technology has crossed a threshold, where the average person has so little comprehension of what is actually the basis for the tools they use that they need to track back to a time that can be understood? Or is it some other reason? Currently, I have no solid conclusion about the causes of this societal shift, or really any hypotheses for that matter. It is something that I think should be looked into at some point, hopefully by someone more versed in sociology than myself.