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entries for category "future"
David Van Brink // Mon 2008.10.13 08:57 // {broad generalities future}

Free Idea: New International Power Plug

This morning I woke up doing some dream-design work.

It was about the new international standard power plug. It resembled an American power plug, nonpolarized. The tines were a little bit more widely spaced, and narrower.

The power cord was a little bit thinner and more flexible than normal cords. This was for two reasons. First, the AC current on it was stepped in some exotic way that allowed more effective power over the same conductors than a pure sine wave. Maybe it spreads the frequency out more, and affects the cooling characteristics.

More importantly, the voltage and frequency was negotiated by a tiny chip in the plug itself, with the wall outlet. It’s down in the plug, again, to optimize cord weight.

Presumably the protocol can also carry data.

I’m pretty sure the stuff about the frequency-spread and power capacity makes no sense at all. I am just a software guy. But the rest seemed plausible enough. I do so hate wallwarts.

oh, i dont know. what do you think?

David Van Brink // Thu 2008.05.22 12:17 // {broad generalities future}

Free Idea

This morning my girlfriend had to get up at 4am to catch a flight to Arkansas. After seeing her off, I dozed and had some abstract dreams, which eventually crystalized into a design meditation for a ludicrous web 2.0 product.

Ludicrous? You decide. Let me know if you get rich with it.

The general concept is an “active DVD player”, active in the sense of “active viewing”, as parents are encouraged to promote with their kids’ tv habits, this for example.

This active player will of course devolve into trash, but that’s besides the point.

The idea is that while watching a particular bit of content, you can search or skip around in it, using various annotations. Obviously, you can search on the existing subtitle stream (once it’s been OCR’d). You can contribute to the searchability by annotating any part of it. You can add notes, describe images or frames, or other remarks Naturally, this is put in a big huge shared database, categorized and rated perhaps by whuffie.

And of course you can choose to chat with others who happen to be watching the same thing at the same time. You get the idea.

Copyright issues are for now sidestepped by only supporting physical DVDs in the player; the shared annotations contain only frame-number references.

Annotations are for now keyed to particular DVD’s, since different editions and edits will have different frame affiliations. Tragic but true. Perhaps later the annotations can be regathered by image-matching or globally-unique-timecode markers. (GUTM’s will be necessary moving forward for rights-management and tithing on fragmented media; we’re certainly near the end of the age of the personal library.)

Just imagine when every frame of every movie is a potential match on Google image search! After we run for a few years, the dataset will be worth billions. Go, Team Crowd!

But isn’t this grotesque, providing yet another outlet for mindless dotery on the creative work of others? Well, yeah, sure, I guess. But I think we have to accept that our imminent “nation of artists and philosophers” is actually evidenced by the fact that Wikipedia has a longer article on Darth Vader than on Klein bottle, dobsonfly, or Charles Babbage.

oh, i dont know. what do you think?

David Van Brink // Mon 2007.02.26 21:06 // {broad generalities future}

Hacking Sawdust, Part I: Atoms? Or Bits?

or, One Way To Use And Enjoy The Carvewright/Compucarve Wood Printer

Atoms? or Bits? This is one of my favorite subjects, since it relates to all the big questions. Brain versus soul, love versus sex, and should I get rid of all my clutter except for this here computer?

Atoms, or bits?

In The Future they’ll be nearly interchangeable. To merely describe a thing, verbally, will be enough to cause its rendering in whatever form strikes your fancy (and budget I suppose). As you speak with the Shop Of The Future you’ll tell it what kind of clothes or telephone you like, and there they’ll be, made to order. Or if you sit down in front of your Television Of The Future it will compose a cinematic masterpiece tailored precisely to your interests and desires, with biometric feedback guiding the story-arc. (Surely, a cinematic masterpiece. No doubt of it.)

Vernor Vinge suggests that this will happen before The Singularity; the classic cinematic masterpiece Forbidden Planet portrays it as the root cause.

Along the way we’ll encounter such hazards as cheap and plentiful “techno” music, and entire villages which look like poorly designed web sites.

But enough about risks, I am but a mere fetishistic technological dabbler, and I’m here to share some of the details of the dabbling with you. For now, at least, a verbal description (into the microphone, please, and enunciate) is not enough, and hackery is still needed.

Suppose you wanted to make one of these:


It’s a block of wood carved with some, um, spheres or something. It’s a little hard to tell. Anyway, it came out of a primitive replicator which can in fact be purchased at Sears. But that’s really the among last steps of the process. Before that, a bit of hackery may be enjoyed.

See next entry.

oh, i dont know. what do you think?

David Van Brink // Mon 2006.07.10 23:12 // {future}

Atoms Versus Bits

Two gentlemen, whom I’ll call Mr Addam and Mr Bitte, had a conversation. Mr Addam is an hardware engineer whilst Mr Bitte has more software oriented leanings.

* * *

Mr A remarked, “Say, B, you’ve spent a lot of time doing software and building virtual things. What’s up with that?”

“Well, A, it’s all going to go virtual, don’t you think?”

Mr A said, “Oh dear, I do hope not. I like things. Why, I like things so much that I have a numerically controlled ‘laser’ in my home, to make things!”

Mr B said, “Files are things too.”

Mr A muttered, “Says you.”

“What was that? Anyway… Personal manufacturing is a wonderful trend. Like the tailors in Sleeper, or the makers in Diamond Age. I don’t think we’ll see personal factories in every garage, though it’ll certainly be available to enthusiasts such as your fine self, Mr A.”

“But how can everything go virtual? We’re made of atoms. I dare say that even you are made of atoms.”

“Hm, indeed. The makers in Diamond age produced objects, chairs and whatnot, that weighed practically nothing, using as few atoms as possible. But more and more of our activities don’t involve atoms at all.”

Mr A said, “I’d like to think that’s a trend which will run its course, and we can return more to atoms from this unfortunate detour into bits.”

“Virtual is always cheaper. I suspect, ” Mr B began, “that that’s why we haven’t been visited. You know, by them. Perhaps every civilization reaches a breakeven point where –.”

Mr A was naturally eager to reground the conversation. “UPS’s new slogan is ‘Synchronizing the World of Commerce’. I saw it on their trucks.”

“Um. Catchy.”

“It’s indicative that atoms are catching up to bits –”

“That ‘laser’ cutter in your garage uses files for its input right?”

“Yes, exactly!” Mr A cried. “Don’t you see? As we create finer and finer machines, the distance between file, facture and artifact becomes smaller and smaller! The file equals the artifact!” He paused a moment, looking upwards, calculating. “Aah, give or take a few ergs.”

Mr B considered. “Well, I suppose that if we do continue living in our bodies — and that’s just a premise, not a conclusion — then we’ll continue to splurge on the expense of atoms.” He sighed. “But virtual is always cheaper, Mr A.”

* * *

Lady Verb listened to all this, and everything else, smiled her ever-changing little half-smile, chuckled softly. Silly boys with their things. It’s the doing that matters.
* * *
Ms Adjective and Ms Adverb glanced at each other, held their tongues. This time.
oh, i dont know. what do you think?

David Van Brink // Mon 2006.06.26 18:31 // {future}

Future Disillusion

In high school, in the latter half of the 1970’s, me and my geek gang used to quip that in the future, there would be two self-selected castes: Those who made television and those who watched it.

It was pretty clear — even then — that the availability of the tools for production and distribution of, well, everything would only increase over time. I’d used modems to talk to far-away computers, watched the Z-Channel (blessed by Theta, the cable goddess), and read enough science fiction to know this.

And of course it was obvious that universal knowledge, omniscience even, was similarly inevitable. Asimov’s “Multivac” and Leinster’s “Logic Named Joe” both describe our internet and its search engines quite precisely (except for the advertisements).

I had assumed, in my optimistic and simple youth, that of course these imminent tools would be put to use in a spectacle of unleashed creativity. Who wouldn’t want to compose symphonies, film epics, create paradises both virtual and real?

What I didn’t realize was that the technology itself would be so fetishized. I don’t mean the technopagans who wear old circuit boards. That’s just fine, works for me. Great fashion.

I’m referring to the fact that on the whole we don’t exploit this amazing data-processing power for creativity, but for fetishistic clerical work. I don’t mean spreadsheets and payroll, those are fine things too, good uses for computers. The spreadsheet is a rather amazing invention, actually.

I’m referring to fetishistic clerical work that is voluntarily performed. Everyone’s busy rearranging their hard disks. Cataloging files. Trying to keep their photo collection organized. Futzing with backup utilities or — more often — simply worrying about their lack of a backup strategy.

But even these activities are explicable. One’s data is important, someone must take care of it. But how much time is spent organizing other people’s data?

OK, maybe you don’t have a vast collection of BitTorrent files of obscure television programs, or a carefully alphabetized (but never used) suite of pirated high-end software titles. Or maybe you do… But I’ll bet you digitize your CDs. I’ll bet you’ve gone to the store, purchased a piece of plastic, taken it home to your computer, and run an audio compressor on it, and maybe, must maybe, typed in the track names. You had to choose which compression and quality settings to use. Because you own that piece of plastic.

It makes me mad.

But here’s an example of the next stage of inexcusable fetishistic parallelism:


This is a box which you hook up to your cable teevee tuner at home. It digititizes your tuner, and then streams it out onto the internet.

So now you can, in addition to your role as an archivist of other people’s music, be your own cable network, rebroadcasting cable teevee from your home to… wherever you are now. Here’s a user anecdote, from a coworker: “He watches TV during boring university lectures and his parents, who live in Colombia, are able to follow all of US shows and sports.” Ye gads. A lifeline to your living room, so if you’re in class, or the wrong country, you don’t miss any shows.

The internet, golden and glowing, crisscrossed and saturated with data! How joyous! How millennial! How Gibson-on-the-half-shell! Until you look closer and see that it’s everyone clogging the wires routing and endlessly reduplicating the same stale bits.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s better than being a stinky hippie trading cassettes of Grateful Dead shows.



John // Wed 2006.07.26 06:516:51 am

That’s quite insightful, David.
I’ll have to save that essay off somewhere.
Just as soon as I decide on a filename…

David Van Brink // Wed 2006.07.26 08:028:02 am


Ryan Ballantyne // Sat 2006.09.9 12:2012:20 pm

You make mostly good points, but I do take exception to your apparent implication that consuming others’ creative works is a bad thing, and that, by extension, use of technology to consume it in more convenient ways is a waste. What would be the point of creating and distributing your own symphony, if no one listened to it?

Do you really not understand the utility of ripping CD’s, or did you just pick a bad example to make your point?

David Van Brink // Sun 2006.09.10 20:188:18 pm

But… but… it’s a rant! It doesn’t have to make sense, does it?

But seriously, what I was trying to get at was the silly redundancy going on. Of course I rip CD’s, so I can play them in iTunes and all that. But I converted a copy of The Bee Gee’s Greatest Hits, and you converted your copy of The Bee Gee’s Greatest Hits, and we both have it backed up to our separate BLT drives, and and… what’s this obsession with the Bee Gee’s anyway? You should just be able to think Staying Alive and the MCP would begin playing it directly into your private ear buds…

Hm I got a little off-course in my reply there. Sorry about that.

oh, i dont know. what do you think?

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