Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Local Sourcing

Is 3D printing part of a larger trend toward local sourcing EVERYTHING?  The answer is going to have to be yes over time, because the cost of energy (read "oil") will go up so high, that only those items not physically available at a location will be shipped.  For the earth, and with human ingenuity, the only things not capable of being produced locally are raw materials like metals and fuels.

But what can be produced locally, if given the right incentive?  Food, energy, consumer goods, services.  200 years past, farms could be isolated by 100 miles of wilderness, and they would have to create everything on their own. In the future, we may have to return to that.  Admittedly it will be a slow process, but moving certain manufacturing and production facilities back from the outsourced nether will be beneficial as the cost of fuels keeps climbing.

Local sourcing.... not just a made-up phrase anymore.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Hydroponic Systems

I know that hydroponics is a thing that's been around for years.  I also believe (perhaps wrongly?) that most of them grow marijuana.  But I was recently reading about some new systems designed for indoor cultivation through hydroponics that make me want to go out and become a farmer.  Or at least buy an expensive, giant apartus to put in my already cramped apartment.  

The one that I like the look of the most is called the OmegaGarden.  It's a cylinder with plants stuck to the inside, roots out.  There is a light in the center that is always shining on the plants.  And as it turns, it dips into hydroponic solution.  Basically, you have a rotating herb garden.  You can harvest amazing amounts from it, though the crops are limited.  And its almost $3000, so I won't get one any time soon.  Besides, I'm sure my girlie would like a more outdoorsy system....

Enter the WhirliGro.  Its a crazy tube system for growing plants sky high.  You suspend the tubes filled with dirt (yeah, not exactly hydroponics, right?) in spirals above the ground.  On the spirals, you plant vegetables. And over time, you get a bunch of plants on an apparatus with the same footprint as one or two.  Its kind of cool, if you have any place with dirt at all. But since I have a small apartment and no garden, I'd have to settle for something like the....

Green Wheel.  It is exactly like it sounds, except the inside is green, not the outside.  Similar to the Omega Garden, the green wheel has a light source in the middle, surrounded by plants in a growing medium.  But differently from the OG, the Green Wheel is small and stylish and capable of fitting on your counter.  The idea of fresh herbs on my counter is pretty cool, and one I might even pay money for.  When it is finally released for sale, I'll let you know my thoughts on the price point.  

Monday, July 16, 2012

Health Care

There are so many issues with the healthcare system that I really don't know where to start thinking about them.  The ones that I know off the top of my head are:

  • High healthcare costs
  • Difficulty in getting insurance
  • State-by-state regulations
  • Difficulty understanding what coverage you have
  • Doctors scared of being sued/high cost of malpractice insurance
  • Doctors performing more tests than necessary
  • Little or no preventative care nationwide
  • Insurance companies with too much lobbying power
  • Possible fraudulent activity, due to high value and low penalties
  • Unequal knowledge (patients vs. doctors vs. insurance companies vs. regulators vs. everyone!)
  • The debate about the universal right to healthcare, or not
  • Supply limitation due to high barrier to becoming a doctor
  • Specialist is more lucrative than general care is more lucrative than nurse, but they re useful in reverse order, creating abundance and scarcity at the same time
So, the question is - how do you fix all those problems?  The fix almost depends on where you stand on the role of government in people's lives.  It also depends on your world outlook, your current state of health, and your empathy with your fellow Americans.  I'd even argue that it depends on your hipocracy.  

Each of the items above have many different possible intervention points.  Depending on your information, some points are easier to see than others, but of course they vary in impact, cost, and social acceptability.  I believe that they are all interrelated, aside from all concerning the healthcare industry.  I'm convinced that there is one or a small series of causes that all the current problems with healthcare can be attributed to.  

In the future, I'm going to read up on the new healthcare bill and see how it addresses the issues I mentioned above.  

I'd love to hear you comments on my list of issues, what you think any root causes are, and what you'd do differently to make healthcare perfect.  

Monday, July 9, 2012

Doomed to repeat it

The old saying goes that if you don't learn from history, you are doomed to repeat it.  The meaning being that if you don't understand the mistakes of the past, they will likely repeat themselves, rather than civilization (and even your own life) progressing and making new, completely unique mistakes.

I have a hard time remembering all the different items I learned in history class, especially the dates.  When confronted with an issue, I try to learn the machinations and the outcomes, and leave the details to the history books.

But the more I talk with people about politics and try to get their take on things, the more I realize that the minutia - the details of who was in office, what other programs were going on, economic landscape at the time, etc - the more I feel the background causes a divide in ideology.  It's the little things that really make for spirited debate, and I'd like to thank the bartender at Fizz for showing me that last night.  I'm inspired to learn more about the history of our country and the political, social, and economic climates we've been through.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Human Attribution

A study that shows that people want human attribution, rather than computer-generated?  So passe!  I'm more interested in how a computer/internet giant could use this information when knitting together crowd-sourced materials.  It actually makes me think of the Google images, where you could tag images with a partner, and the more esoteric the tag you agreed upon, the more points you could get. 

Human attribution is the idea that when a person puts a picture (or any other content, for that matter) online, they are much happier if a human responds (tag, comment, like, etc.) than if that response was computer generated (some programs can auto-tag photos).  That shouldn't be such a weird idea, since we tend to reject robots and artificial intelligences, sometimes because they are too human (but not human enough for us to accept). 

Over time, though, we may get used to having services like auto-tagging.  In that case, we will move to different means of getting human attribution.  Photos may become less important than they are now, because they move beyond sharing lives and into cataloging them.  Videos may be the only medium left where we can prove that computers aren't the ones providing responses. 

Its little computer-controlled items like this that will lead to a technology backlash.  Eventually people will start giving up services like Facebook and MySpace because they just don't offer the same validation as in the past.  And if enough services cut out validation for automation, maybe we will see regression to pre-technological times... maybe?  Please? 

Monday, June 25, 2012

See the Oxygen, See the Emotion!

Well, augmented reality glasses are on the cutting edge, but there is another high-tech advance coming glasses that allow you to see the oxygen levels in people's blood.  Interesting, yes.  Party trick, hopefully.  Invasion of privacy, kind of...?

The glasses enhance some of the colors that we can see, making the contrast between different blood concentrations more prominent.  This allows, for example, doctors to see trauma through the skin.  Or security officers to see how nervous you are.  Or a date to see when you are lying.

It's not really a privacy issue.  You can't hide something like that, because it is in plain sight all the time, anyway.  It just makes you wonder if you can train yourself to see, for example, O2 levels in blood through skin without these glasses.  Being able to do that could make you into a super hero!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Automatic Story Writer

There is so much theory out there about how to write stories.  Through school, I've read the classics.  Later, I read many fun books.  I saw movies and plays.  Listened to music.  Many follow similar paths, like the

I'd like to see the aftermath of a computer programmer programming those elements into a simulation.  With the right simulation, and the right parameters, I bet you could produce some top notch stories.  With a simulation a human would need to take the reigns after the story has been outlined.  I'm not sure we'll ever be able to create a computer program that can actively pull the human heart strings as well as a poet or painter.

To do this, you'd need a team with a bunch of computer programmers, a couple of story theorists, some good writers (to give you example sentences that can be combined, and one hell of a project leader.  There are already some people out there working on this idea, and some of the fruits of their labor have already been posted on the internet.  The Seventh Sanctum has a generator that spits out story ideas that are fusions of previous stories.  And this one has a ton of different generators, to help you create your own story.

The biggest issue would be the almost infinite number of story element combinations.  The further you get from theory toward application (in this case, making a story), the more permutations arise.

Monday, June 11, 2012

New College Model?

It is hard to believe how far educational debt has rocketed.  Just a few weeks ago, the nation passed the $1 trillion mark for all education-related loans.  We're going to see a change in the general university education system in the next 20 years - a movement short-term college.   

There are several problems with the current post-high school education system.  
  1. The quality of a university is seldom based on the quality of the instructors there.  
  2. The cost of a university education is enormous.  
  3. The majority of graduates work outside their major.  
  4. "Go to college, get a job" doesn't apply as much as it used to.  
  5. Students are able to pursue whatever degree they want, without regard to the future job market.  
Short Term college is the ability to take a 2-year degree, go out into the workforce, and return later for another couple years of schooling - during 6-month leaves or part-time night/weekend classes.  That way, you end up with only two years worth of debt, rather than a full college education.  Additionally, you get to see how useful your studies have been, and, when you return, you can better plan your studies.  Finally, this would let you get started in the workforce earlier, meaning you could sock more money away for retirement.  

Two changes need to happen.  First, the idea that you need a 4-year degree should be modified.  It should be "proven online learning capability."  That is the most valuable when people in generation Y will have 7+ jobs over the course of their life.  That can be proven through a number of different paths - schools, community organization, volunteerism, etc.  The second is that both schools and work would need to be flexible in offering these alternate paths.  If a person follows one, they could be penalized in the early years, if it is not understood.  

Really, what we need is a more nimble education pathing system than we have now.  Do you have any other ideas about what the education system could evolve into?  

Monday, June 4, 2012


As we've been seeing lately, many devices can operate via bluetooth.  The most obvious is the past-trend headset for your cell phone.  Cell phones have also been able to connect to devices like your car through bluetooth technology.  Lately, there has also been the introduction of bluetooth keyboards and computer mice. 

What is lacking is a bluetooth screen.  I was looking into making my cell phone into my primary computer, and found that the majority of what I'd need is already installed on the computer (excluding things like Diablo 3).  My cell phone can already connect to mice and keyboards, but needs to be plugged in to get the most out of my high definition output.  After a cursory glance, I couldn't find any monitors that were bluetooth compatible.  

I know we can never get computers and other electronics completely cordless.  The difficulty off replacing batteries would make it unattractive for the majority, and impractical for the small minority that would adopt it.  But some equipment today, such as your computer and monitor, require two cables - one for power, the other for communication.  I argue that we should be able to get away from needing a communication cable anymore, especially for home use.  And shouldn't television companies be getting in on this too?  LG has, but not enough - their TV supports some connectivity, but not full-monitor display.  :(

Monday, May 28, 2012

Requirements for Predictive Models of Human Behavior

Psychohistory is a concept from the renowned science fiction writer Isaac Asimov.  In his Foundation books, a small group of individuals used a complex mathematical formula to predict the movement of the entirety of the human race.  His supposition was that in aggregate, humans are predictable - especially when the numbers got very large.

There are three things necessary for such a fantastical mathematical model to be possible, and we're approaching them all at an accelerating pace.

Statistical Significance

Perhaps the easiest for humans to strive for is the numbers required to move humans into statistically governed quantities.  Similar to how we can predict the pressure exerted by air when it is compressed, we'd need a very large number of people to make sweeping generalizations.  We're approaching seven billion people on the planet, but is that enough to be statistically valid?  I think not, but we're probably not that far off.  

Unified Theory

The is probably the most difficult of the three requirements to achieve.  Right now, there are many different areas of study of the human condition.  Psychology, physiology, crowd behaviors, emotions, philosophy, political science, and many more.  Each of them is revealing insights into how people act as either individuals or part of a group.  Each of them is giving a single, minuscule building block to the big picture.  To make this work, all the different scientists will have to come together to put their piece into a single model with standard measures.  It's like hearing cats, if all the cats have P.H.D's.  

Computing Power

The most important one is a computer to run the entirety of the equation.  Without a computer of sufficient speed, we would never know the output of our equations, and possibly be unable to interpret them anyway.  When we break through the barrier of quantum computing, it opens up the possibility that we will have enough data storage capacity to make possible the complex calculations needed to make an educated prediction on the future of man-kind.  

Until all those come together, there will be no way to determine what will happen in the future with any scientific accuracy.  We have to rely on futurists and dreamers to help us envision the future and what it means to us.  I have no doubt that we'll get there... eventually.  

Monday, May 21, 2012

How much TV will be in your transportation?

Today, there is an epidemic of distracted driving.  The most visible cause is texting on cell phones - reading and typing at 60 MPH.  All the old causes are still there - eating, reading the newspaper, cell phone calls, shaving, makeup, and plain old inattentiveness.  None of those, or any of the other distracted driving causes, are built into your car. 

Unfortunately that isn't going to be the case forever.  Aftermarket tech providers are offering a multitude of digital monitors that you can install into the dashboard of your car.  One web site actually gave directions on how to mount your iPad to your car, presumably for hands-free distraction.  

Just like texting in cars, this is going to cause many accidents.  There will always be people that choose to do things at inappropriate and sometimes dangerous times.  And as more people do, it will cause more accidents, and there will eventually be a backlash by the public.  

So my prediction is that we will start seeing more dashboard televisions in cars, rather than just the digital status display in many cars today.  And then their use will get out of hand, including streaming video from internet services while driving.  And finally there will be laws against their use in some states, and they will only be available through aftermarket sellers again.  

Will that save us from distracted drivers?  No, but it will certainly cut the number of drivers who hit you while watching their favorite television shows.  

Monday, May 14, 2012

Computer Mind Reading

When computers were first invented, they had a keyboard and a cursor.  Then later we added a mouse and graphical displays.  Video games came out with joysticks.  Trackballs.  Touch-screen virtual keyboards.  Swipe-typing.  All of them are physical physical physical!  

Enter the brainwave control helmets!  The ones for sale a few years ago were definitely geeky.  They had electrodes, wires, and probably gears and steam engines.  But today the helmets are becoming smaller, more stylish, and more sensitive.  

Eventually someone (ghost of Steve Jobs) is going to make a product that has no controls other than a headband.  Typing a paper will no longer give you carpal tunnel syndrome.  And it could be faster for navigation, too, as long as you can remember what you need to navigate to.  

And that's just within the next 20 years!  There is every possibility that these types of controls will eventually be implantable, and that people will be able to continuously link to computers around them.  You could have a iHouse that links to your iBrain.  The danger, of course, is the possibility of viruses!  There needs to be some damn good error testing!  


Monday, May 7, 2012

Reused Everything

For many years, we've been hearing about more and more about recycling and its importance.  The EPA, though, included two more - reduce and reuse.  I'm all for reduction, but that isn't something you can see with your eyes.  Reusing, though, has caught on and there are several niches where that maxim is becoming important.  


I've started to see more examples of people reusing materials for art projects.  This is especially evident trash from our childhood or refuse with a deep cultural significance, or both.  For instance, I love this home decoration made out of discarded computer keys.  Here is an article with 7 more reuse artwork projects.  


New houses tend to be made out of less sturdy materials than the houses still standing from 50+ years ago.  Even then some architects were reusing materials from large building projects in their houses.  I read a book about building houses that advocated using old railroad ties to support the roof, as well as salvaged doors, windows, floors, etc.  


I enjoy books, and I'm so glad that there is such a large market for used and donated book.  I'm sad, though, that there isn't more strictness on what gets written down (somehow) because libraries are often overflowing with texts, which get indiscriminately destroyed when space requires.  


If you haven't heard of it, check out Freecycle.  It is an online service that allows you to post your unwanted junk, and others will often say they want it, and come pick it up from you.  It's taking advantage of the idea that one person's trash is another's treasure in a unique, technologically sophisticated way.  I wonder when small businesses are going to get in on that, and eventually there could be an associated trade in old business furniture or other un-marked office equipment.  


If you've seen 5 episodes of Dragonballz, you've seen 500, am I right?  


Monday, April 30, 2012

Modern Day Hitchhiking

In the golden years, you often saw idealized accounts of people hitchhiking across the United States.  Or hopping on trains and riding the rails.  Those idyllic scenes have been changed over the years.  Stories of hitchhikers attacking kind motorists or motorists picking up hitchhikers for nefarious purposes percolated through our culture and now I know of very few people who would be on either side (hitcher or motorist) for their own safety.  

Our current energy crisis could be alleviated a little by hitchhiking.  I see many cars with only the driver, which is a huge waste of space.  And many places people want to go are destinations for thousands of others, making it more likely that both hitchhikers and motorists would want to go there.  If we could double the average occupancy of each car, we could save millions of driving hours a year!

It would require some very important changes.   
  • An electronic thumb of some sort (like in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy), rather than using your regular thumb.  
  • The ability for hitchhikers and motorists to rate one another, similar to couch-surfing.  
  • The tipping point where both motorists and hitchhikers have a large enough pool on the other side to use the app.  
  • Cultural adaption to having strangers in your car. 
Hitchhiking, or a sanitized version of it, can make a comeback if the right minds get behind it.  In the future, community will be ever more important.  Sharing (or selling?) resources like your driving time would be a great way to spread the wealth.  

Monday, April 23, 2012

Government Gridlock Consequences

Many people today are worried about the fact that politicians today can't agree upon issues.  You see articles all the time such as "Medicaid group can't agree on cuts."  If you'd like more, just do a google search.  Many people are concerned about the polarization that seems to be happening in the political system - when the Democrats and the Republicans take increasingly divergent positions - because it makes compromise almost unthinkable for the two sides.  But what does a grid-locked political system do to our world?  I've listed below several outcomes that intrigue and/or frighten me.  And it will all happen because our government can't agree on action.

Shrunken FDA

All that needs to happen to cripple the FDA is for the government to allow Prescription Drug User Fees Act (PDUFA) to lapse.  That would mean the FDA wouldn't be able to collect user fees from drug companies for expediting approvals.  Which would reduce the number of drugs coming through.  It is also a major source of funding for the agency, and would cut drastically into their activities, including inspecting food and drug companies.  

State-Level International Policy

When you think of international policy, I'm sure you think of the ability to sign treaties.  But I'm talking specifically about immigration a possible slippery slope.  If the federal government can't agree on a standard US  immigration policy, then the states will take it on themselves.  Arizona, for example, passed a bill that is targeted at curbing illegal immigration, and is on its way to the Supreme Court to hear whether it is constitutional.  If it survives, individual states could use it to take international policy away from the Federal government, which is the rightful holder of those duties.  

Unending War

We've been at war for most of the past 20 years.  The reasons why are debated, and I'm not going to get into them.  But without the government working together, it's unlikely we will ever get fully out of the unpopular conflicts in the Middle East.  A strong force keeping us involved is the inertia we've gathered during the military actions of the recent past.  That inertia is reinforced by the stalemate in the government, because its almost impossible to get a large enough majority to do something dramatic, like end a war, with 100% die-hard opposition.  

Market Volatility

Immobile law makers or regulatory agencies put strain on our markets.  And that strain is translated into volatile stock and bond prices, as speculators cause large swings in the value of market instruments.  The market actually responds favorably to final action by the government, because that reduces uncertainty and calms risk.  The less that gets done in the government, though, the more uncertainty there is as issues build up in the queue.  

I'm not a doom-sayer.  I don't think that the worst will happen in all cases.  But I do think there needs to be a change in the political landscape so we can avoid some of the consequences above.  What do you see as the biggest outcome of a fully gridlocked government?  

Monday, April 16, 2012

Overlooked Over-consumption

I've heard a lot about information overload in the past few weeks.  There was a big story on NPR about the need to filter to get quality information to help build our world view.  And their prescription was consistent with some of the current thinking on food.  In fact, the speaker adapted a saying from Michael Pollan and said "Consume news, not too much, mostly facts."  

The theme was that society is providing an unhealthy version of something (information, food) that we had evolved to prefer over traditional "healthy" consumption.  But those are just two epidemics that have come to the attention of the national media.  There have been other overload that have been less publicized and/or neatly packaged.  In fact, with the current post-industrial era, there are many other areas where we have an overload that needs to be corrected.  


Four thousand years ago, during the agricultural age, people lived their entire lives within a few miles of where they were born.  During the industrial revolution, people lived in cities near their factories.  But with the invention of air travel and proliferation of cars, people have spread out across the countryside.  They are spending hours per day traveling and their health is suffering.  Air pollution, excessive sitting, high-speed fatalities and lost time with family are increasingly large problems that are exacerbated by increased travel.  


I'm sure I'm going to get some push-back on this one.  Emotions have existed since the beginning of time.  Our ancestors were afflicted by the same range of emotions as us - everything from happiness to fear to stress to anger.  But with media (first mass, then social), we've gotten both more homogeneous and more extreme in our feelings as a culture.  Fear of communists and terrorists, anger at our economy and political system, love for cute kittens.  Emotion sells better than cold, hard facts, and today almost everything has an emotional component to its advertising, use, or value.  You'd be hard-pressed to find a consumer product that isn't associated with an emotion.  

Any Communication that's not "In Person"

In the discussion above about information, they talked about how some information is bad and you need to limit your consumption. I go further.  Any form of information transfer that was developed after agriculture is something we need to consume with care.  We are not designed for either large-scale mediums or direct communications that are missing body language and inputs for our other senses.  It's unhealthy for humans as currently evolved.  We need to balance it with a healthy dose of face-to-face personal relationships, or we isolate ourselves.  

What other overloads have you seen in our society?  If you don't see them, just think about what we have now that we didn't have 100 years ago, and I bet people are consuming way too much.  


Monday, April 9, 2012

What is a Futurist?

My first experience with a futurist was actually much older than I was aware of.  Robert Heinlein was a futurist when he wrote the future history of earth.  He envisioned the rolling roads, a longevity breeding program, and space travel.  Back to the Future 2 showed us flying cars, hover-boards, and heads-up-display glasses.  Alvin Toffler predicted something eerily similar to the current internet, mass personal power (social media, anyone?), and the increasing focus on whole-life in business. 

Not all of those came true.  Half of the items above didn't even come close, and the other half were realized in related, but not exact, versions.  Versions of the future have left people wondering why we don't have working jet packs.  They've also given us pocket computers in the form of smart phones. 

What do Futurists do?

Futurists look at the trends of the world today and try to predict what will happen in the next five, ten, twenty, or more years in the future.  Their views are not always accurate, nor are they always wrong.  The provide a MODEL of the future for us to work with.  As I've learned, "All models are wrong, and some are useful."

But what good do they bring society?

Just spouting what they've been thinking about doesn't make for a lucrative career unless you're a sci-fi writer.  Futurists provide value by hooking the right people up with the right ideas, with the intent to steer individuals toward a certain future. 

Should they be doing that?

Of course!  Why not?  No one is forcing people to listen.  They are not being secretive about their predictions (generally).  Often, I've been unable to identify any personal long-term gain from the discussions brought on by Futurists.  It requires a lot of work to be good at it, and I'm sure successful practitioners our there do it as a labor of love. 

Should I be doing that?

You should certainly be looking around and trying to figure out where it is going.  If not because you're curious, then certainly because it mitigates some of the risks you subject your family to over the generations ahead.  I don't necessarily think you should be out on a soap box, but don't live like a hermit, either. 

This is a real job?!?!?

I think it sounds like a fantastic job.  I hope some day to have the chops to put together articles as fun as the Futurists I've been reading. 

Do you have any experience with futurists?  Did you read any books that seemed to tell the future?