Sunday, November 18, 2012

“Has progress plateaued?”

This question is posed in an editorial by D.J.Tice, commentary editor for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

I like his choice of words; he's not suggesting that progress has come to an end, merely that the waves of change we boomers have all lived through have, for the most part, run their course, and nothing on the same scale has really taken hold yet.

You might object ‘But what about the increasing power and penetration of computers? What about the Internet?’ My response to this is that, so far, both phenomena have been noisier than their real contribution to people's lives have warranted.

The main impact of computers as they currently exist happened a couple of decades ago. Subsequent increases in the speed of the underlying electronics have enabled incremental improvement in usability, but it's only since 2007, and the burgeoning ubiquity of touchscreen devices which followed, that anything really new has happened in computing since the 1984 introduction of the Macintosh, and even that turn of events is beginning to feel a bit stale after five years. The popularity of the Wii, then of the Kinect, show that we haven't yet solved the human-computer interface problem.

The Internet has grown like a weed patch, displacing other media and offline activities, and making a wide range of information far easier to access than used to be the case, but the average quality of that information is fairly low as compared even with the golden age of television (when there were only 3 or 4 networks to divide the audience), and only those with better than average search skills could really be said to be better informed than before. Again, we are only beginning to figure out how to make all of this networked data relevant in people's lives.

Nowhere is this sort of thing more evident than in robotics. Except for the Roomba, and other similar appliances, a handful of military applications, and a few toys, there has been very little to show for all of the noise about robots since the rollout of industrial robots in the early 1960s, at least until quite recently.

But, while the world has waited for something to come of it, the necessary conditions for a robotics revolution have been falling into place, and it's from this direction that I expect the next big wave of change to come. In fact, that wave has already begun to arrive!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

closing the election season chapter and looking forward

While I'm gratified by the result of the presidential election, I can't help being horrified that it was as close as it was. I mean, REALLY! Romney and Ryan in the White House? Even if you assume that most of their rhetoric was only that, designed to keep habitual GOP voters from bolting or sitting this one out, it was still a scary prospect. ‘Let's further entrench the idiotic policies that got us into this economic mess in the first place.’ This was the choice offered in place of Obama, the most upright, clear-thinking, and strong-willed President we've had since John Kennedy, perhaps longer, and yet the popular vote was as close as it was. I have to wonder what the outcome would have been if Jesus Christ had been running instead of Obama; would Romney have won? What a lot of work we have ahead of us, untangling the confusion of our brethren and their children.

Looking forward, I'm anticipating a lot of the same, which is to say moderate progress despite the noncooperation of the Republican dominated House of Representatives. With the government thus hamstrung, the main source of progress for the next two years, until the next congressional election, will be the backlog of unexploited applications enabled by recent advancements in technology, and the renewed entrepreneurial spirit that is everywhere in evidence, with its intense focus on providing practical solutions to real problems and making stuff that enhances people's lives – as opposed to get-rich-quick schemes built around financial instruments of dubious value, which were all the rage during the previous administration.

Obama can be counted upon to get the government behind this new economy as much as can be accomplished through the power of his office and through his personal influence, but for the most part it's up to us.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Robohub: news, views, and everything robotic

Robohub is a new robotics website with a deep history. Brought to you by the same group that produces Robots Podcast, Robohub is, at the outset, among the best connected sources of robotics news, and also offers interviews with and editorials written by robotics experts, microlectures on tightly focused subjects, and tutorials that will help you get your own projects up and running. Robohub is your window into the world of robotics.

Monday, August 06, 2012

GOP Serving Garbage 'Facts'

In a frenzy of gleeful abandon, clearly intended to conceal any hint of conscience, the GOP has begun turning facts upside down and inside out, in an attempt to find some accusation that will stick to Obama long enough to pry him out of office.

The manner in which they are going about this reminds me of someone who just jumped out of an airplane without a parachute, relishing the fall as long as they can.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Wingsuit Flying: EXPERTS ONLY!

This is among the few most amazing videos I've ever seen, including on network television! VERY DANGEROUS!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

concealed meaning in Apple's WWDC 2012 graphic, intentional or otherwise

When I first saw the announcement for WWDC 2012, the graphic caught my attention, that customary apple outline but composed of layered, translucent, diamond-shaped lozenges of various sizes, in bright colors, and what immediately popped into my head was how thoroughly apropos it was, whether intentionally so or not. For me it symbolized where I hope (and believe) iOS and OS X are headed, in the context of iCloud, twin manifestations of a well-ordered assemblage of lean-but-complete modular components, robust enough to be used alone, but only revealing its true prowess when connected to the cloud, represented in the graphic by the white background, which shows through in a few spots.

Actually, I suspect the layering is intentional, and is meant to allude to the genesis of the fully 3D user interface, which would be a welcome development, but, for me, the graphic will continue to have the meta-meaning outlined above, even if it's only a personal interpretation.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

airborne wind turbine

This is such a good idea! Even better, it could have two counterrotating turbines, either in series (coaxial) or in parallel (twin air channels), to reduce issues associated with torque.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Bookmarks Bar folder labels, brevity, and OS naming

I don't, but if I did have a Bookmarks Bar folder for Android, it would probably be labeled "Andrd" for the sake of brevity. Brevity is at a premium because I have a lot of Bookmarks Bar folders, and like for them all to be visible when I'm browsing. I do have a folder for non-Apple websites that focus on Apple and its products, and that folder is named "iOSX". If I weren't so concerned with keeping it short and more concerned with precision in folder labels, I might rename it i/OS/X, to indicate that there's a spectrum of devices running a spectrum of operating systems, all closely related.

What primarily distinguishes iOS from OS X is the user interface paradigm supported, touch screens versus mouse/trackpad and keyboard. But this quickly becomes a less clear distinction when you consider that iOS devices already support keyboards, both virtual and physical, and might at any time gain support for pointing devices, and Mac trackpads already support gestures, even if they're not identical to iOS gestures.

At some point in the not-to-distant future, maintaining the distinction between OS X and iOS may no longer make sense, but by that I don't mean the obsolescence of keyboards and mice, rather I mean support for whatever user interface equipment is available, be it touch screen, trackpad, mouse, keyboard, eye tracker, stereo video for mid-air gestures, or voice, with an API that makes basic functionality available regardless of the user interaction mode, while offering the opportunity to tweak performance in particular modes.

This is far easier to say than to do, but there's some evidence to suggest that Apple has been hard at work making it possible.

A secondary distinction between iOS and OS X relates to the sandboxing of apps. In iOS, third-party apps on non-jailbroken devices have been sandboxed from the get-go, whereas on the Mac sandboxing is a recent thing, and only necessary for apps distributed through Apple's App Store. For that matter, kernel extensions are still allowed in OS X, and will continue to be allowed on a limited basis in Mountain Lion. But the issue isn't really about sandboxing versus developer latitude; it's about security and utility, two goals which aren't necessarily at odds.

When Apple finds a way to bring the utility of OS X to iOS, without sacrificing security, and to bring the security of iOS to OS X, without sacrificing utility, it will be time to discard the distinction, and perhaps rebrand the recombined system "iOSX".

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Proview like a crooked used car dealer

Here's Apple's statement regarding Proview's claim that it never licensed the name "iPad" to Apple for use in China

“We bought Proview’s worldwide rights to the iPad trademark in 10 different countries several years ago. Proview refuses to honor their agreement with Apple, and a Hong Kong court has sided with Apple in this matter.”
What Proview has done is very much like a used car dealer who sells you a car and then later claims that the engine wasn't included in the deal, sues you for damages because you're using the engine, and calls the police to stop you from driving the car until you pay, explaining that the agent who sold you the car didn't have the right to sell the engine with it.

I wonder what the government of the PRC would do in such a case.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Siri and Apple's long history of anticipating voice/touch/agent user interfaces

The USPTO has just published the first heavyweight Siri-related Apple patent application, and Patently Apple makes it almost comprehensible. Of particular interest in that article, is this speculative Apple-created video from 1987…