“I am so done with keyboards, I think they’re dumb.”

I made the claim above during a recent conversation with a friend about the possibility of a future Apple tablet computer. That was a bit of an overstatement. But what I really mean, is the way keyboards are used today is dumb and needs to change. For instance, when I type on my iPhone I don’t always need to type the whole word, it does a decent job of auto-completing. Also, I can mash the letter’s wildly and it will figure out what I meant to type with amazing accuracy. So why is it that with a full-blown computer, and a huge keyboard I have to type E-V-E-R-Y single letter of every word with almost no forgiveness for typos? It just makes no sense. Three ways that text entry can smarten up are text expansion, typo correction and auto completion. And these methods could also be applied to non-keyboard text input methods, like handwriting recognition.

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Amazon should buy Zinio or Texterity


Ok, you're probably thinking, "Zini-what and Texteri-who?"  Zinio and Texterity are both companies that convert print editions of popular magazines into digital replicas that can be read online.  The digital edtion looks just like the original magazine, ads and all, but boasts some very handy features like searchable text, web-links, and a simplified table of contents.  You can check out sample magazines by Texterity and Zinio for free.  Both have some impressive titles and offer way more selection than is available for the Kindle.  As I wrote before, I think magazines could be a killer app for the Kindle, but they need more titles and a way to deliver full-color editions which can be read from your PC.  Purchasing either Zinio or Texterity would help accomplish both those objectives.  Of course, Amazon already has it's own Amazon Online Reader which delivers faithful reproductions of books, so the actual software and methods may be less attractive then the magazine titles they would gain in an acquisition.   Also, both Texterity and Zinio have created online readers optimized for the iPhone, which could prove to be a tough rival to the Kindle.  By purchasing Zinio or Texterity, Amazon could control their competition better or even profit from it.

Transparent Post-It Notes


Reader Paul sent this in, and I totally love the idea of transparent Post-it Notes.  I'm not sure if it's just a concept product or something we actually may see one day soon.  Either way, I'd totally use them.  3M should jump on this if they haven't already.

Transparent Post-It Notes on Noisy Decent Graphics

iPod Delete Workaround


In the past I've written that I thought the iPod should have a "Trash Can" or "On-the-go Delete" feature.  But through the magic of music synchronization and Smart Playlist you can pretty much create this functionality yourself. 

Check out my new instructable "Automatically remove unwanted songs from your iPod."  You actually use your iPod to mark which songs should be removed, so you can do it on-the-go.  And don't worry this won't delete songs from iTunes, just from your iPod.

Special thanks to Andy Budd for turning me on to Smart Playlists, and this very clever commenter for giving me the idea.

iPhone Apps I'd Love to See

Apple is scheduled to release the official iPhone/iPod Touch SDK at the end of the month soon, which means we should see the first "official" iPhone/iPod Touch applications shortly thereafter.  Here are some apps, I'm can't wait to see:

  1. TI-8X Graphing calculator
  2. iPhone as Modem
  3. Gesture Commands (also here)
  4. Voice Commands ("Call Steve", "Next Track", "Volume Down", etc..)
  5. A2DP Support
  6. Pandora player
  7. Some games (sudoku, tetris, etc.)
  8. Hulu Player

Keep reading for more on the Graphic Calculator idea.

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DS Game Downloads


For Christmas this year, my amazing girlfriend gave me a Nintendo DS Lite.  It's my first portable video game in ages and I (we both actually) love it.  But the one thing I'm not so wild about are game cartridges.  Initially the cartridges were quaint, but now they just seem inefficient and annoying.  Nintendo should really offer DS games downloads and a way to load a bunch of games on a single cartridge.  Actually something like that already exists, sort of...

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Recycled Energy Development - Turning Waste Factory Heat into Useable Energy

RED - Recycled Energy Development, has proven methods for converting the heat that normally goes out factory smokestacks into useful energy.  Here's how it works:

We basically use the heat to boil water and make steam, we use the steam to drive a turbine, ... and the turbine drives an electric generator.

The energy can power the factory itself or be fed into the energy grid to power homes. RED estimates that if all the waste heat from US factories and plants were captured it could make up 20% of US energy use, which is roughly the same as 120 coal-fired power plants.  That could mean that the US wouldn't need any new coal fired plants, and some existing plants could be taken offline, creating a huge reduction in CO2 emissions as well as other pollutants.  If factories can reduce their energy costs, or even make a profit by selling their energy back into the grid, overall manufacturing costs could go down dramatically.  That could mean more manufacturing jobs could stay in the US.  This is one of those ideas that's so good it's almost frustrating.  I strongly recommend downloading the Living On Earth interview with RED chairman, Thomas R. Casten.  He discusses some of the challenges with electric congeneration efficiency in the U.S.   One of my favorites Quotes in the interview:

CASTEN: I'm an environmentalist who tries to make my living as a capitalist. I want to have those rules be as cost effective and as environmentally effective as possible. My larger comment is that global warming is such a huge problem; it's hard to believe we're going to solve it if our only answer is that people must make sacrifices. We're offering an approach that profitably reduces greenhouse gases and that's much easier to persuade people to do - to go improve their own economic lot and do good. We just need to be a little smarter about how we're doing these things.

RED - Recycled Energy Development via Living On Earth (Download the entire Podcast or just the RED segment)

Ads for Cars you Can't Buy

Recently car companies have taken to advertising cars they don't sell.  Like this one for the BMW Hydrogen 7,

or this one for the Honda FCX Clarity, and lastly this one for the Chevy Volt. 

When I first saw these ads I was outraged.  None of these products can be purchased, and they could be nothing more than empty promises.  However, after reflecting on these ads, I concluded that they could actually improve things for fuel efficient vehicles.  Read on for why.

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Publishing to the Kindle Store is Dead Easy


In my last entry about the Amazon Kindle, I wrote that Amazon should make it really easy for publishers to make their content available on the Kindle.  Amazon's Digital Text Platform does exactly that, it enables publishers to upload their content to the Kindle Store.  Did I mention it was REALLY easy? You basically just fill out the details of the publication, upload the file (supported formats include HTML, PDF, even Word Documents), and set the price.  I'd love to see small magazines, professional journals, universities and even museums take advantage of this; it could be a great way to reach a larger audience and have a permanent archive of content.

Kindle Magazine Strategy


In my last entry about the Kindle I discussed how magazines could be the "killer-app" for Amazon's Kindle.  The Kindle holds amazing promise for reducing the carbon footprint of publishing, but to do that the Kindle first needs to get really popular.  Amazon still has some work ahead of them before the Kindle is a raging success.  Read on for some simple ideas for how Amazon can use magazine content to make the Kindle a hit.

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Amazon Kindle, Magazines Could be the Killer App


Electronic readers hold incredible promise, particularly for the environment: replacing paper books with electronic downloads could reduce paper consumption and waste as well as energy used for manufacturing and transporting materials and finished products.  But in order for the promise of electronic readers to be realized, they first have to become hugely popular.  So far that hasn't happened yet.  But Amazon's Kindle might be able to succeed where others have failed.

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Dell Multi-Touch Tablet Revealed

I thought I knew a thing or two about multi-touch.  I know that Jeff Han's multi-touch displays and Microsoft's Surface use cameras behind the screen to detect finger contact.  I know that Microsoft hasn't (publicly) been that successful in scaling a multi-touch screen into a really thin (or practical) form factor.  I know that Apple bought FingerWorks several years ago.  I know that Apple has a ton of IP related to multi-touch.  But one thing I didn't know is that Dell was going anywhere near the technology.  Now out of the blue this video drops of Dell's new Latitude XT Tablet sporting 5 finger multi-touch.  With all of Apple's multi-touch IP I was sure it would be first with a multi-touch tablet, but it looks like Dell might beat them.  Unless of course the long rumored ultra-portable MacBook Pro is going to be a multi-touch tablet and beats Dell to the punch.  Which now seems pretty likely.

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Apple Needs an Equal Rival

Daring Fireball has a very eloquent entry on how Apple has no rival to push them to be better and give consumers more choice.

If Apple is BMW, who is the Audi pushing them to be more elegant, or the Acura or Lexus pushing them to be more reliable?

The sensibility and technical expertise that Apple brings to its product is simply unmatched in consumer technology.  And while I'd love for a rival to emerge, I don't think any major tech company actually wants to play the same game as Apple.  Although if one were to emerge, my money's on HP, I think Sam Lucente is doing amazing things.

ShouldDoThis.com, the site I should have thought of...


ShouldDoThis.com is the site I wish I had thought of.  It allows anyone to submit a suggestion for anything, then the user community can vote on the suggestions.  To submit an idea you need a user account, which takes about 5 seconds to create.  From there, all you have to do is type in who the suggestion is for, and what the suggestion is.  When you find an suggestion you like, you can click the "Should do this" button and it adds you to the list of supporters, you can also write an entry giving your two cents on the suggestion.  You can easily search suggestions, and view all the suggestions for a particular entity, which actually gets it's own subdomain like http://google.shoulddothis.com/.  The site is attractive, easy to use and the developers are incredibly responsive to user suggestions (go fig).  If you like this website, I strongly recommend checking out Should Do This.

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Chevy Volt: GM's new electric car


GM might actually bring back the electric car with the Chevy Volt. The Volt features a lithium battery that gives the car a 40 mile range, more than most people drive in a day. The car can then be plugged in and fully recharges in about 6 and a half hours. But, what really makes the car unique is the small on-board internal combustion engine which can recharge the battery as you drive. By utilizing this additional engine, driving range between fill-ups could be as much as 640 miles. Quite frankly, I'm really impressed with the Volt, I think GM, or perhaps I should say BobLutz , got it right. However, I am surprised by the aggressive appearance of the Volt. The big wheels and angular look makes it look like a modern muscle car, it actually looks a lot like the newCamero. In some ways that approach seems totally wrong, given how hybrids are distinguished by their cute and aerodynamic design. But that might be the point, after all people who are really into energy efficiency will probably buy the car no matter what it looks like (cough...honda insight). But for the people who were turned off by the somewhat toy-look appearance of many fuel efficient vehicles, the Volt might just what they're looking for. Again, I think GM got it right.

iPod Touch Gestures

While I love the idea of the iPod Touch, I'm a little wary of how the touchscreen will work in the real world.  With my current iPod (20GB 4G) I can easily skip a track or adjust the volume while walking, I don't need to look at the screen and in a pinch I can even control it from inside my pocket or bag. However, with just a big touch screen, it may not be as easy to control the music on the iPod Touch.  Even the iPhone has dedicated volume buttons on the side and the included headphones have a play/pause and next track button on the microphone.   37Signals wrote a great entry on customizable gestures on the iPhone.  I mentioned a similar idea here, and I still think some kind of gestures to control music would be awesome.  Here are my ideas for some music control gestures for the iPod Touch (or iPhone) that could work with the screen turned off or locked:


The iPod Touch has an accelerometer so it knows which way is up.  So for the volume control, just drag a finger "up" to raise the volume, or drag your finger down to lower the volume, it would know which way is up no matter which way it was oriented.  Using a double tap for play/pause might be a little tricky to distinguish between accidental taps, so that might not be realistic.  Of course, the iPod Touch isn't even out yet, so this might turn out to be a total non-issue. 

A Cheaper Reader

Engadget recently posed the question "How would you change the Sony Reader?"  To me the answer is obvious: cut the price in half.  As I discovered with my Nokia N770, a low price tag can save a weak product.  Of course, price isn't the only problem with the Sony Reader...

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Open Letter to Palm from Engadget

Engadget has an open letter to Palm with a ton of great ideas for how to restore Palm as a leader.  Here are some of my favorite bits:

  • You guys got handhelds right when everyone else, including Apple, was struggling to figure it out.
  • Get thin - Three words: FIGURE IT OUT. If HTC, Apple, and Motorola can offer thin (and we mean friggin' thin) smartphones, you can too.
  • YOU NEED TO MAKE THE PHONE LOOK NICE....  How have you failed to see that innovative and engaging design is necessary to win (or even compete) in the mass-market consumer cellphone world?
  • we do, honestly, want you to make it through this thing. We want to love Palm like we loved it in the old days, and know somewhere, deep down, you've got some fight left in you.

Bluetooth and Audio

David Pogue's recent article, "Bluetooth and the End of Audio Wiring," really highlights the need for more computers, particularly notebooks, to support wireless music playback with Bluetooth.  The article also great job explaining the confusing aspects of Bluetooth audio in very plain language and describes some very cool Bluetooth audio gadgets that can free your music from your cell phone or iPod.

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A Second Look at the iPhone Copy and Paste Video

I was watching this iPhone copy paste video again and something didn't add up.  Watch it again and see if you can figure it out for yourself.  Otherwise, hit the jump...

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Recent Apple Ideas from Around the Web

They Should Do That is all about ideas for products that individuals can't carry out themselves.  So I love to see work from around the web with a similar purpose.  Just after the iMac announcement this great "Where's the Mac?" entry appeared.  The author's basic point is that Apple offers the Mac Mini, the iMac, and the Mac Pro, but no "Mac" which he proposes should be less powerful and less expensive than the Mac Pro but offer comparable expandability.  It's a great little read, and the comments are priceless. 

Also, this really cool video appeared demonstrating how copy-and-paste could be implemented on the iPhone.  Apparently iPhones can't copy/paste, which is probably pretty annoying for people who do a lot of e-mail on their phone.  The production is awesome and weird, but it seems like only one of a number of ways copy and paste could be implemented.

iPhone Copy and Paste from lonelysandwich and Vimeo.

Apple's Product Design Strategy

In my last entry I discussed how Apple's approach to product development is affecting the technology industry, and citied some examples of how other companies are responding.  I'd like to describe, what I believe to be, an important aspect of Apple's design strategy by way of this awesome image of Apple's products:


To me this image demonstrates that Apple approaches almost every product as though it's creating a design icon for the ages.  The products have an incredibly long lifespan, for instance: the basic iBook design was basically unchanged from 2001 through 2005, the iMac design is basically unchanged from 2004 to the present, and the aluminum PowerBook (now MacBook Pro) and full tower desktop designs have lasted from 2003 to the present. On the surface this might be seen as a decision purely motived by aesthetics, but it's also enables Apple to minimize design and manufacturing costs. Instead of creating all new product designs (with new parts that have to be tooled and manufactured), Apple can focus on incremental refinements and improvements. By comparison companies like Dell and HP seem to release totally new (and often unremarkable) product designs almost every year.  All those designs seem to be piling up.  For instance Dell currently offers 8 different desktop enclosures to home customers, despite there really only being 3 distinct sizes.  Even worse, most likely all those enclosures will be totally forgotten within a year.

Next Apple Multi-Touch Products Reprise

So after stepping back a bit, I think I may have to scale back my Apple multi-touch predictions.  I still believe that multi-touch will be the next big thing, but I think the transition may be a little more incremental than I originally thought.  After all, before Apple jumps into multi-touch with both feet they're going to need to be confident people really like it.  And that will probably mean a few baby steps along the way.  The news of a multi-touch mouse from Apple is a good example of such a step, even though I'm a little dubious that Apple will ever release it.

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Apple's Next Multi-Touch Products

Shortly after the Apple Store opened back home, my mom and I were in the mall and we stopped in.  One of the things I showed her was the first generation iMac with LCD screen.  I adjusted the screen to be a comfortable angle for us both to look at it, and started to show her around the desktop.  While pointing to one of the icons on the Dock, my finger accidentally tapped the LCD screen which caused a little ripple around my finger as can happen with an LCD when you tap at little too hard.  My mom noticed the ripple too, an her eyes instantly lit up, "Can you just touch the screen?"  she said.  "No," I said, "not quite yet."  That simple experience was enough to convince me that touchscreens are the next big thing in modern computing; on the same order of the mouse and the graphical user interface.  On June 29th, Apple will release the iPhone, their first product with a touchscreen since the Newton.  So the question is, what will be Apple's next Multi-Touch product?

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Digital Music and the Environment

Cnet News has a great article on the environmental benefits of transitioning music from CDs to digital files, something I wrote about here.  So far, it seems things are getting worse before getting better.  From the article:

there's no noticeable decline in the number of physical CDs found in landfills. While music fans are buying fewer CDs at record stores, they are buying more blank recordable CDs to burn their own discs from music acquired digitally.

Also it seems as though a fair number of MP3 players are ending up in landfills as well, where they can release some pretty nasty chemicals.  As much as I sometimes feel toolish for babying my iPod, this sort of makes it seem worth it.  I still think the transition to digital music will benefit the environment in the long run, even though it may take longer than expected. 

Digital music no environmental cure

Zune for Windows Mobile


The iPhone is set for release on June 29th, and it will probably enjoy a huge amount of press attention.  If Microsoft is working on a version of the Zune player software for Windows Mobile, they should try to release it on the same day or the day before.  If done well, Zune for Windows Mobile would give anyone with a Windows Mobile smart phone or PDA a great media player experience.  And if available as a free download, it would be a great way for Microsoft to ingratiate itself with Windows Mobile smart phone users, especially those who might consider buying a iPhone.  By releasing the download with the iPhone launch, Microsoft could potentially piggyback on the iPhone's press and enjoy a great deal of coverage.  Stories on the iPhone could easily mention: "Apple iPhone is on sale today for $499.  But if you already have a phone that runs Windows Mobile, Microsoft has a free download of its Zune music player for you."

Microsoft, Zune, and hardware partners

Even with all my installation problems, I'd still argue that after iPod/iTunes, the Zune and Zune Software has made the greatest contribution to the digital audio player landscape.  While Zunes may not be flying off the shelf now, Microsoft is known for slow and steady improvement, and I wouldn't be surprised if within a few years the Zune is healthy competition for the iPod.  As I discussed in my entry about Microsoft's strategy, Microsoft likes to create platforms but let hardware companies sell the actual devices.  With the Zune, Microsoft wisely made the player, software and online store itself, in a uncharacteristically Apple-like move.  However Microsoft could eventually do something Apple never would: let other hardware companies make devices that are compatible with the Zune platform. When and if the Zune establishes itself in the market and in the hearts of consumers, Microsoft should seriously consider allowing other hardware companies make Zune compatible devices.

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Microsoft Gets on their Multi-Touch Love with Surface


Microsoft has just announced their new product Surface.  Surface is 30" multi-touch display on the surface of a table which can not only react to multiple fingers (and users), gestures, but even devices placed on the surface.  There's a  great video where the user places a wifi digital camera on the table and the photos appear to spill out of the camera.  The user then places a cell phone on the table and begins dragging photos onto the phone.  The demonstration videos are really incredibly impressive, and the technology holds incredible promise.  However, these devices are going to cost between $5,000 and $10,000 and are currently only being marketed for places like hotel lobbies and in-store displays.  The other significant downside is that, like the Microsoft TouchLight and Perceptive Pixel Displays, Surface uses cameras and rear projection to sense finger contact and display the image.  That means the space under the table top is used for the display components, not your legs.  This makes Surface look more like a conventional CRT TV turned on it's back than a table.  As always this is really great research from Microsoft that will help bring this new interface mainstream.  But until these multi-touch displays can be built around an LCD or even Plasma display, don't expect the technology to spread too quickly.  Also, given that Apple has lots of multi-touch related patents filed, I wouldn't at all be surprised if Apple releases a multi-touch LCD display or tablet computer at some point this year.

Microsoft Surface
Microsoft Surface: Behind-the-Scenes First Look (PopularMechanics.com)

Windows Home Servers


Microsoft recently announced a new platform called Windows Home Server.  This will enable a new breed of NAS devices (home servers, you might call them) to collect and store music, movies, photos in one place from all the computers on the network.  That means families will have an easier time consolidating photos and music into one source.  Windows Home Server can even enable users to access their content securely over the web (wow, I didn't realize what a security nightmare this is going to be until I just wrote it).  The devices will also be able to preform automated backups, something most people should do, but don't.  Currently there are no devices available using Windows Home Server, the image above is a concept product by Carbon Design that will never be released (more pics here).  I'm personally really psyched about these devices, I use Microsoft's SyncToy to backup my PC and absolutely love it.  Also if these devices can consolidate my and my girlfriends music library into one source I'd be happy dude.  However, this is Microsoft we're talking about, so I'm just a tad skeptical...

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Wall-Mountable Wireless Printer


I just got back from ICFF, where I saw some amazing things.  But one of the products I found myself thinking the most about wasn't at ICFF, it was this wall mountable printer at the Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial designed by Ransmeier & Floyd.  I have to admit, I've totally come to accept the predictable form and large footprint of most printers, but this concept design has totally changed how I think about printers.  In the days of flat screens, and wireless laptops, there's just no reason why printers shouldn't follow suit.  That said, one of the big printer manufactures should totally make this thing!  I'll buy two!  Also, the way it displays the printouts like a picture in a frame, it could be a great way to share photos with friends and family if you could remotely print directly to the printer.  My only minor critiques of the product are that it looks a little tricky to get your prints out of that little slot.  Seems like if the front were a door, or if it didn't have those side edges it would be much easier to extract the pages.  Also, while the concept for the product is that it prints wirelessly, they didn't really address how it's powered.  Personally, I don't really like the idea of a battery powered printer, but I'm not wild about having a power cord hanging off the printer when mounted to the wall either.  But if forced to choose I think I'd prefer the latter.

Ransmeier & Floyd at Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial
Ransmeier & Floyd

Automatic PC Self Diagnostics


A few weeks ago my laptop started running extremely slowly, and I began bracing myself for the worst.  I ran a virus check, and made sure my affairs backups were in order.  I thought this was the end for my almost 4 year old laptop, until I noticed that my computer was unusually quiet.  I next noticed that my CPU was running really hot (I have this handy app that displays my CPU temperature in my system tray).  Sure enough the fan wasn't spinning.  A few minutes with a compressed air canister and I had successfully blown out the dust that was gumming it up.  Disaster averted.  And probably just in time too, had I continued to run my computer without the fan it could have been permanently damaged.  While I'm really relieved the problem was so minor, I'm also a little annoyed that my computer (or any computer that I know of) doesn't notify the user if things at the hardware level are running sub-optimally or not at all.  Most new computers provide ways to run tests on almost every part of the system (including the fan), yet to run them it often involves booting the computer into some archaic looking "diagnostic" mode.  But really the operating system should periodically run hardware level tests and notify the user if something fails or is preforming way worse than it should.  In fact it doesn't even have to notify the user, there just needs to be a quick way for the user to check the results of the test when something seems off.

Will the iPod remote make a comeback?


I love my iPod, but my one gripe is that it's very hard to do things like change the volume with the iPod in my pocket. Oh how I've longed for a little volume dial on the top of my iPod like on my old Walkmans. It's only really a problem when you're walking on the street at a good clip and don't want to risk pulling that ever so smooth and slippery iPod out of your pocket to change the volume or skip a track. This problem may only get worse if the next iPod's whole front surface is a touchscreen, similar to the iPhone, which will offer no tactile feedback. Hopefully they'll be able to offer simple controls that can be used without looking at the screen, perhaps using simple gestures. For instance, changing the volume could be done by sliding two fingers up or down the screen. But that could be hard to do from your pocket, and for those of us that like to keep our iPods in protective sleeves. Also, I can't imagine Apple will disrupt the design of the new iPod for a few buttons on an edge or front. But they may bring back the iPod remote as freebie with some model iPods, perhaps even one using Bluetooth. Back when I purchased my 15GB 3rd generation iPod it came with this great little remote pictured above. If Apple doesn't bundle a remote with the touchscreen iPod, I could see a huge market for attractive iPod remotes.

Multiple Signatures in Gmail

I love Gmail's ability to send from and check multiple e-mail addresses, it lets me keep all my e-mails at my fingertips in the Gmail interface I've love so much. However, Gmail only allows users to have one signature which gets appended to all outgoing e-mails. Gmail really should have the ability to set up different signatures for each outgoing e-mail address. That way folks like me, who use Gmail to check several e-mail addresses (including a few for various jobs), won't be stuck with the same signature on everything.

Fantasy Flim-making Camp for Kids


In the summer of 1982, Eric Zala (13), Jayson Lamb (13), and Chris Strompolos (12) began their 7 year quest to create a shot-for-shot remake of the classic Raiders of the Lost Ark.  I had the pleasure of watching "Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation" and was amazed by the production and inspired by their dedication.  The remake is incredibly faithful and an absolute pleasure to watch.  Even through the grainy betamax recording and sometimes garbled audio, the cast and crew's enthusiasm shines off the screen.  The scenery, props and stunts are particularly impressive: from the giant boulder that chases Indy in the opening scenes to the bar-fight complete with the set and cast members on fire.  During the Q and A Eric Zala (Director) and Chris Strompolos (Indiana Jones) talked about making on summer vacation, and it occurred to me that they should start a summer film-making camp for kids (maybe between 8 and 14).  Each summer the camp directors could choose a classic to remake, like Back to the Future or Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, and the campers would do everything from making props and scenery, to directing and acting.  The camp could introduce kids to the process of making a film, and even give kids an opportunity to focus on individual skills or facets of the production.

No iTunes Subscription Model for Music, but What about Videos?

Recently Steve Jobs has again denied the possibility of a subscription model for music on iTunes, but conspicuously made no mention about a subscription model for videos.  "People want to own their music," he said.  What he means by this is that while many music subscriptions offer unlimited downloads, the catch is that when you end your subscription all the music you downloaded becomes unplayable.  So essentially, customers of these plans are just renting music.  While the concept of renting music may be unpopular, renting videos is something that everyone does.  And Jobs made no mention about the possibility of a subscription-based model for iTunes videos that would essentially allow people to rent videos.  A subscription plan for iTunes videos could be widely popular; even with the same people who would never want to rent music.  I've written about the need for an iTunes subscription plan for videos here and here, and now that the iTV is out I still maintain that a subscription plan for videos is inevitable.

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Kiva.org, Microfinancing Made Easy


Microfinancing is the little idea that's making a big impact to help reduce poverty.  And Kiva.org makes it easy for anyone to get involved.  Founded and run by in impressive list of Silicon Valley celebrities, Kiva.org allows anyone to make a loan to an entrepreneur in the developing world.  The businesses, like the loans, are small, but the impact is tremendous.  Browsing the site you'll find everything from a grocery store owner in Cambodia, to a baker in the Dominican Republic.  All the business are verified by field agents from microfinancing institutes, and currently 100% of loans have been paid back.  The loan can be transferred via PayPal, which has waived their typical transaction fee so that 100% of the loan goes to the entrepreneur.  I could go on about how inspiring this is, but if you have 15 minutes, I'd strongly recommend just watching this video clip from PBS's Frontline.


Thanks Rob!

Mute Web Pages


I listen to music on my computer approximately 100% of the time, so few things annoy me more than web pages with background music (worse still are those banner ads that talk, wow are those annoying).  Usually the "sound off" button is hard to find and seems to appear only well after the music starts.  I think it's time for web browsers to treat sound the same way they treat pop-ups.  By default background sound should be muted (just as pop-ups are blocked), but users are notified that sound is muted and have the option to un-mute once or always for that site.  This seems totally feasible, though it may be difficult given that most background music is played from within a Flash based website.  I'm sure there's some ambitious young plug-in developer who's up to the challenge, and if not perhaps Firefox developers will create such a feature one day.  I've already added this idea to Firefox Feature Brainstorming wiki, so my fingers are crossed.

The Slow Death of Built-to-order PCs:
Part Two - No one wants to Configure

There's another huge cost to these highly configurable systems: customers have to actually configure them, and then wait for their computer to be built. Most people I know, don't understand the difference between hard drive capacity and memory capacity. And while people might enjoy selecting all the most expensive options to build that $9,000 system, when it comes to actually configuring a computer with the right balance of power and affordability, most people don't have a clue. To anyone smart enough to realize they don't know the first thing about computer components, a built-to-order PCs is hugely unattractive (which is why lots of people go to the nearest electronics big box store and buy whatever they're talked into). Instead most customers would rather just buy a computer with the specs they need and that day or the next. Before long most consumers will feel that configuring a new computer is something they just shouldn't have to do, and they're right.

The Slow Death of Built-to-order PCs: Part One - The High Cost of Customization

Dell's recent financial trouble may signal a shift in how consumers buy computers.  Dell pioneered the built-to-order PC, the idea being that customer ordered exactly what they wanted and Dell would never be sitting on unpopular systems.  They streamlined the process out the ying-yang and beat everyone's prices.  But now it's becoming harder and harder for Dell to turn a profit on the PCs they sell.  While I'm sure there are tons of theories as to why this is the case, I'm going to offer up my own: after a certain point offering too many options causes more harm than good, and Dell is well beyond that point...

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The Blue Pages: How to Vote with your Wallet


My amazing sister turned me on to this amazing book: The Blue Pages is a Zagat style directory of companies' political contributions, business behavior and policies.  I just ordered one for myself and am already obsessed with it.  Each entry has a nifty little chart that shows what percentage of political contributions went to the Democratic or Republican party, it also lists the exact dollar amount given to each party.  After browsing through it just quickly, it's a little disappointing (for Democrats at least), it seems that in general most companies contributed more to the Republicans and those that do contribute to the Democrats, contributed less.  It was printed in January 2006, and it would be interesting to know if that trend has shifted at all in the past year.  Anyways, I can't withhold my excitement about this book, without making just one tiny recommendation: They should totally make an online version of the book with data for a lot more companies, update the data annually, and provide graphs of historical data to show how a company's contributions changes over time.  This book is great, but they're going to need to update it every year or so, and an online could not only display a lot more data, but would also reduce the environmental cost of producing books year after year.

The Blue Pages - $9.99

Thanks Gen!

Medical Tablet Using E-Ink Display


Just a few weeks ago Motion Computing and Intel announced their C5 medical tablet, which had some great features but the $2999 price tag may render it a non-starter.  Now another medical tablet, from Emano Tec has emerged.  The MedTab is small (5.5" x 7.5"), weighs 1lb, has a 12hr battery, and, most notably, uses an E-ink display.  E-ink is a black and white display technology that is extremely low power and requires no backlight.  Like the C5 it's washable, offers Bluetooth and WIFI connectivity, and is drop proof (probably even more so than the C5, since it doesn't have a hard drive).  Interestingly enough it does run Windows CE, as I proposed, in my entry on the M5.  However, the price is still sky high, $4,995 for orders under 50 units and $1,999 for orders over 50.  While the form factory and battery life are are definitely a big step in the right direction for a medical tablet, the price is still way to high.  White frankly I don't understand why it's so expensive, a Sony E-book reader using a comparable screen costs about $500 and a PDA with comparable specs costs about the same.  Given that this is such a new company, I'd imagine the volume they're producing these things at is so low, that it's difficult for them to achieve any substantive price reductions due to volume.  After all if ordering just 50 units cuts the price by over 50%, imagine what an order of a few thousand units would do.

Dell IdeaStorm: Because People are Smart


So Dell hasn't had the best year.  Yet they did something few companies in their situation would have the guts to do, create a website where users can submit ideas and then vote on their favorites.  The website, dubbed Dell Ideastorm, displays the ideas with the most votes on the homepage with other ideas on subsequent pages.   Dell then tries to address the top ideas with a written response and, hopefully, action.  The effect is something like a hybrid of Halfbakery and Digg.  However, unlike Digg, and much to Ideastorm's detriment, top ideas don't seem to refresh on a daily or any regular basis.  Consequently the top ideas on the homepage have pretty much been there since the site launched.  They really need to address this problem, because the site basically becomes self-defeating if the top ideas don't have the opportunity to cycle.  Nonetheless, this is still a great move for Dell, and I wish more companies would try things like this.

Jeff Han Back at TED


Jeff Han is back at TED this year, actually he spoke yesterday. I wonder if he'll be presenting anything new since the video released with the Fast Company article. If he presents a multi-touch display that doesn't rely on cameras and projectors, I'll flip.

Tablet PC to Replace Medical Charts


Ready for some scary statistics?  Each year about 1.5 million people are injured due to medical mistakes, and about 90,000 are killed.  Numbers like that make me want to write to Apple and tell them to stop releasing a cool new music player every few months, and make technology that could save lives.  So I was totally psyched to see the C5 Tablet from Motion Computing developed for health care providers.  It's a tablet computer with a built in barcode scanner, RFID reader, and camera.  Plus it's fully sealed so it can be cleaned and disinfected.  While a lot of really good thinking went into the device, the $2200 price tag will probably put it out of reach for most hospitals, especially the ones that need it most.  Given that OLPC was able to make a $140 laptop, Motion and collaborator Intel could have tried a little harder to bring the price down.  The main problem is that it runs full blown Windows, instead of Windows Mobile or a custom Linux build (like OLPC does).  Read on for more on this.

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License Music without DRM Restrictions, refocus on the environment

First of all the big four music companies should totally license music to online music stores without the DRM restriction. Jobs's points in Thoughts on Music are well made that the DRM requirement is stifling a huge potential for sales. While they're at it, they should make album artwork available in PDF format and make digital music available in a variety of audio qualities which can carry a modest price difference. In short they should do everything they can to make digital music truly competitive with CDs. However, more than anything I'd like to see the debate about digital music shift away from DRM and technological compatibility issues, and toward the environment. Read on to see what I'm thinking about.

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Steve Jobs on DRM-Free Music

Wow, talk about confluence. Just after posting about how great eMusic is, Steve Jobs releases a statement endorsing DRM-free music. When I wrote that hopefully we'll see other companies follow in eMusic's path I never thought Apple would be among the first. Here are some highlights, but I do recommend reading the whole statement, it's very readable and very interesting. Ok, now the highlights:

Though the big four music companies require that all their music sold online be protected with DRMs, these same music companies continue to sell billions of CDs a year which contain completely unprotected music.

Imagine a world where every online store sells DRM-free music encoded in open licensable formats. In such a world, any player can play music purchased from any store, and any store can sell music which is playable on all players. This is clearly the best alternative for consumers, and Apple would embrace it in a heartbeat. If the big four music companies would license Apple their music without the requirement that it be protected with a DRM, we would switch to selling only DRM-free music on our iTunes store.

...the music companies are selling over 90 percent of their music DRM-free, what benefits do they get from selling the remaining small percentage of their music encumbered with a DRM system? There appear to be none.


The question is, how can we convince the big four music companies to license their music without the DRM requirement? Oh I know...

Environmental Impact of NASCAR


Several months ago I heard an interesting piece on NPR about a new study concluding that Hollywood was among biggest polluters in LA. Which makes sense, as building elaborate sets and shooting in remote locations is going to consume a lot of materials and energy. However, after listening to the story I couldn't help but wonder about the environmental impact of another form of popular American entertainment: NASCAR. While I feel as though I'm doing my part by minimizing my driving, it all seems trivial when NASCAR runs about 35 races a season, each with about 50 cars, getting about 5 miles per gallon, for 500 or so miles. That's about 1 million miles at 5 mpg, not even counting practices. This probably won't happen anytime soon, but NASCAR teams should be able to earn points by increasing their fuel efficiency. Such a move would be a great thing not only for the environment but for the progress and perception of fuel efficient vehicles.

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YouTube for Audio


I've seen a couple major blogs use YouTube just to stream audio, which really begs the question why can't you just upload an audio file to YouTube? Read on for what such a web app could be like.

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Jeff Han's Multi-touch still kicks butt

A new video just surfaced of Jeff Han's amazing multi-touch interface. While the hardware driving this interface may be big, as it requires cameras behind the glass to see fingers touches and rear projection, the software is unbeatable. I wonder how much longer before he and his entire crew are snapped-up by Apple.

Thanks John!

Can't Touch This- FastCompany.com

Apple Multi-Touch and Han’s Multi-Touch


Since the iPhone announcement at MacWorld some interest has developed in the similarity between Jeff Han’s multi-touch demonstration and Apple’s multi-touch. They both sense multiple fingers touches and they both demonstrated the “pinch” zoom gesture. However, there are some pretty fundamental differences in the hardware driving the two multi-touch interfaces. Read on for a more on this….

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Electronic Voting Machines: The middle school gymnasium goes high-tech

Avi Rubin, a computer science professor at Johns Hopkins and author of the book "Brave New Ballot," recently discussed electronic voting machines on NPR's Talk of the Nation. The interview is absolutely fascinating and I strongly recommend listening to it. Interestingly enough, Rubin prefers paper ballots marked by a computer and scanned by an optical scanner.


In this scheme the voter would cast his vote using a touchscreen computer (like the AutoMark VAT), but all the computer does is print out the marked paper ballot. The voter can then verify the printed ballot and perhaps even request an additional copy to keep. The filled out paper ballot is then counted and captured by an optical scanner. This way recounts and audits can always go back to the paper ballot and be preformed by hand if necessary.

From a voter standpoint, carrying a piece of paper between two sophisticated machines might seem strange but it actually is the most secure and verifiable method.

Also in the interview, Dr. Rubin describes the source code for voting terminals developed by Diebold (the leading manufacturer of electronic voting machines), as "full of security problems, flaws and bugs"; furthermore there's "no way to verify the votes, no way to preform an audit". Very scary.

Philips Entertaible: 45 Point Gaming Touchscreen


Wow, big shout out to my buddy John, for showing me this.  Philips Research has developed a multipoint gaming touchscreen that can detect 45 touch points simultaneously that works with fingers as well as game pieces.  Perhaps the most impressive part is that it's all built around a 32 inch LCD screen, so the whole thing is only around 10cm (4 inches) tall.  Another interesting detail of the Entertaible is the technology used to determine touch locations, as it doesn't use any of the 3 most common methods.

The Philips Entertaible, however, is based on a series of infrared LEDs and photodiodes discretely mounted around the perimeter of an LCD screen.
Source: Philips Research Press Releases

Basically this thing detects finger placement like those obnoxious electronic door chimes they somtimes use in stores.  I wonder what kind of accuracy they can get out of that? 

One Minute IFA Preview: Philips Entertaible [techdigest.tv]
Philips Research:  Entertaible concept: combination of electronic gaming and traditional board games

Jeff Han's Multiple Touch Point Display, the stuff dreams are made of

For anyone who let out a resounding “Meh” after reading my Apple Table entry, check out this video. The video shows Jeff Han of New York University's Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences demonstrating a large touch screen display that is pressure sensitive and can accept multiple touch points simultaneously. This enables multiple fingers (or people!) to interact with the display at once. While some of the examples are a bit silly, they still start to expose the power of the interface. I wonder if Apple has something like this on some workbench somewhere? Even if they do, they should still snatch Jeff up before someone else does, this thing is impressive.

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