April 15, 2010

Smart Phone Dream Machine

Imagine that down the road, an older Steve Jobs walks on stage in his classic black turtleneck and says something like "Everybody loves the iPhone, and they love the iPad too. Many wish that the iPad would fit in your pocket, or the iPhone had a bigger screen. Wouldn't it be great if you could just do this?" He holds out an iPhone, pulls at two opposite corners, and ssssttttrrrrreeeeettttccchhh, its an iPad. The audience explodes with excitement and wonder.

I first thought of that scenario a couple of years ago, way before the iPad was even a rumor. I could see what the iPhone represented and could lead to, but I could also see it's limitations. I was interested, but reluctant to actually spend money on one. The iPod Touch seemed like a much better offering, but it's additional limitations were too much. I hate the abuse heaped on me by AT&T since they bought Cingular, so I wasn't about to subject myself to more. I had already suffered abuse by Verizon and swore in my wrath that I would never use Verizon. Period. So, that leaves me being abused by AT&T or underserved by T-Mobile, Sprint, or Virgin. Perhaps I could use one of Walmart's phones and make Slim a little richer. Anyway, so, I opted for the status quo and have just watched the Market since then.

I was very excited when I first heard about the Palm Pre and their Web OS. I have been cautiously optimistic about Google's Android. I was surprised, but skeptical when Windows Phone OS was announced. I was unmoved about most of the other news on the smart phone front, apart from being more and more impressed with the iPhone and more and more disgusted with the draconian policies and behavior from Apple and Mr. Jobs. They have so many things nearly perfected, but then go and make things awful by their ridiculous developer agreements, their totalitarian control of applications and content, and the unbelievably bad mobile service from their only provider.

There are a few things that could be done much better than the iPhone. Of course, you have to have a multi-touch screen, and lots of wonderful apps, and incredible base functionality, but that is only to equal out what Apple has already done. Then, you have to beat them. First on the list, you have to do better on enterprise functionality. I will have to see the enterprise friendly features in iPhone OS 4 before I really believe they have got them right. Apple has never got enterprise even close since they have focused so much on the consumer, and never the twain shall meet (maybe).

Next, address one of the next biggest complaints. Make it so you can open it up, change your own battery, and even swap sim cards and radio units. Imagine, you get tired of being abused by AT&T (yeah, I know, pretty far fetched) and so you decide to order or buy a T-Mobile radio modulator. It wouldn't matter that they use different protocols on different bandwidth spectrum, you just open the case, remove the old one, put in the new one, and activate your account. Yeah, maybe someday the American Telecoms will get a clue and start using open standards, but until then, swappable radio units are the way to go. Then you don't loose all your stuff. Better yet, make all the major components like wi-fi, gps, battery, and memory swappable and upgradable.

Next, and here is where Apple has really missed the boat. They needed some kind of central access location where all applications and a lot of content would be available and they also needed the ability to reach in and clean things up (used very judiciously of course), but they don't have to have draconian developer policies, and they don't have to act like they own their customers because the customers bought a device. The centralized site ('store' for lack of a better word) should only provide services to the app vendors. All apps should be submittable to the store to be verified as quality, but if 500 developers want to build a music playing, managing, or purchasing app, the store shouldn't care as long as they pass quality control requirements. Let the natural market decide what things are available. They should also require all service providers to provide on-bill selling of apps and content. They would of course set up a robust API to make sure it all works perfectly, and then the sellers would have simplified selling, if they wanted. If they thought they didn't need it, they should be allowed to go it alone. If they can get enough people wanting their apps, they shouldn't even need to have them verified through quality control. I know, this puts people at risk if they are stupid enough to download or buy bad apps, but it is time for a little personal responsibility, don't you think?

Now, to wrap things up, lets really make it better. I want some more features that no-one seems to offer. One, I want a bigger screen than the iPhone, but it still needs to fit in my pocket. Two, I want extensive external connectivity, even if it is through some kind of special dock. In fact, I want to be able to have the dock support an external monitor and display multiple apps in blowup mode, and even support full screen modes for those apps that can handle multiple screen sizes. Three, I want a dual slide out keyboard. I want it to be a full qwerty keyboard in landscape mode, and a numeric keypad in vertical mode. Then, and I alluded to this before, I want to maximize the hardware. When a new processor comes out, I want to open up the thing, and pop out my old processor, and pop my new one in. I want to do that with everything except the screen, the case, and the motherboard (which should be an integrated unit that could support your old peripherals until you upgrade them. Oh, and I want to run this thing without an cell contract when I want to.

I know that such a device doesn't exist, and probably won't, but if someone did it, the marketing opportunities would be incredible.

April 13, 2010

The most awesome job search/hiring system.

Ok, from the title, this sounds like a review or some kind of plug. I wish it were. If the system I am describing really existed, I would be plugging it left and right, and so would everybody else out there, on both side of the hiring fence.

So, the other day, I was called by some company to tell me they wanted to know more about me. They said, that perhaps, they would want me to do some small oDesk jobs for them so they could evaluate my abilities. I am fine with this, so, after putting together a very quick and dirty project portfolio, I went through the process of qualifying on oDesk. Well, I have had people do stuff on oDesk before, but I didn't manage it, someone else did. I had started signing up a long time ago so I could see what kinds of jobs were listed there, and truly, they have created a global job marketplace, but mostly just for small non critical programming jobs. One thing they have that I really like is tons of tests that you can take for free to show what your abilities are. Unfortunately, their tests are kind of oversimplified and not really representative of the abilities they are supposed to represent. It would take more work to make their testing system really rock, and then it would be a lot more useful, but I don't know if it would be cost effective for them in their current system.

The other tool that I have really come to like is Linked In. It is awesome for networking, and has become an important thing to have up to date for people to work on. Unfortunately, it wasn't around when I had most of my jobs, and a lot of the people I have worked for or with either don't have a Linked In profile, or don't do anything with their profile. Linked In has great things like discussion groups, questions, group memberships, and a bunch of other tools, but they don't do anything to validate your claims apart from their referral information.

I found myself wishing that Linked In would acquire oDesk, and create that more robust skill verification test system, and even integrate it with those organizations like PMI and Microsoft and Oracle and Cisco, and so forth that do certifications so that you could see automatically what people have. Then, create a new set of tools that allow much of the HR function of a company to happen in a portal from the site. Then you could have the user/employee be able to partially determine what kinds of things were publicly available. Anyway, I can envision a hiring process to go like this.

Since almost everybody, or at least a majority of individuals would have a linked in profile, whether or not they actively maintained it, when you wanted to hire someone, the best candidates would be on Linked In. The profiles would be up to date because companies (many of them) would use it to help manage their HR, and the certifications would be up to date because the certification companies (most of them) would use it or interface with it.

The hiring manager would sign on to linked in, and, in their approved status as a hiring manager for their company, would create a job requirement, (assuming it is a new job, and not filling an old one, cause then they would just edit the old one), and then look for qualified applicants. Everybody would be available for searching, depending on status (Most people would have something like "Only serious opportunities" or "Make my dreams come true" but some would have "actively looking"). Yeah, I know, companies would want to keep tabs on employee's status, so employees could hide their statuses if they wanted to for specific companies, users, or even demographics.

Anyway, they would get a short list of who is available, be able to sort by skills, other qualifications, rankings, proximity, or just about anything else that is in the system. They then could offer inteviews to those they are interested in, and be at the final decision hiring stage in a few days. If they are just looking, they wouldn't have to create an actual job, just a "just looking profile" and find applicable individuals. That way, instead of just throwing your hiring out into the wind, you can really get the best available candidates, or if you are desperate enough, you can try to "make someone's dreams come true". For job candidates, you can see where you are showing up on applicable jobs, change statuses of where you are looking, set your relocation requirements, and even find new training and qualification options and opportunities.

If that were the case, you can find out pretty quick where you measure up, what your strengths are and what you need to improve. Oh, and the time you spend out of work might dramatically drop as well.

April 9, 2010

Lemmings and Christianity

So, last time, I wrote a post about lemmings. Lemmings, for those of you who don't know it, are those cute little rodents rumored to practice mass suicides periodically when their population grows. Ok, so truth be told, that better describes humans then lemmings, but it makes a great metaphor. Anyway, in discussing human lemming behavior, someone mentioned that people will say that Christians are lemmings. Well, lets think about this. The classical human lemming behavior (as opposed to the actual lemming behavior) is a mindless following with dogged determination to keep going without any thought of the consequences, especially the long term consequences.

Now, lets start with religion in general. Do most people who espouse a religion do so from human lemming behavior? Well, from one perspective they might, but I think in general they are applying forethought to their decision to follow that religion out of concern for the long term consequences. So, according to that definition, they are not being human lemmings. Now, obviously, with all the different religions out there, they can't all be right. However, I think those who vigorously follow a religion and try to live all of their lives according to its precepts can not be accused of being lemmings if they are doing it for real belief and not for social standing or position.

That brings us to the question, "Are there those that are human lemmings when it comes to religion?" and "If so, when?" I can think of the following examples, with exceptions to each. First there are the social lemmings. The society they are primarily concerned with will vary widely, from family society, to neighborhood society, to just the society of specific influential individuals such as religious leaders. They might also be trying to appease a powerful social faction or even government regulation where there is an official religion or regulation enforcing religious practice. Now, one might argue that practicing a religion in order to follow a regulation might be in fact non-human-lemming behavior in that it looks to the long term of preserving one's legal status. While that might be true, it doesn't make a person a believer.

I would like to be able to apply this discussion to all the major religions, but I don't have that much space in one post, as I would be typing forever, so I am only going to briefly compare it to Christianity.

Of course, Christianity is more than a single belief system but a group of belief systems with a single common attribute, which is belief in Jesus Christ as the Savior of mankind. Now, "What is meant by 'mankind'?", "What are they being saved from (usually sin, but not always)?" and "What is the long term goal?" varies greatly from sect to sect. I guess it really gets to the real long term, like, the eternal term, when I ask what makes sense. Lets start with the end.

What is the point of living a good christian life and doing all that you are supposed to do? Well, I have heard some say that the point is to be able to always worship God. Ok, and..... and then what? Well, you will just be in a wonderful place where you will live forever and sing in the choirs in heaven. Um, ok, I admit it, while I love to sing and have been more choirs than most people, but singing in choirs all the time sounds pretty boring. So, what is the point? What is the motivation? Not just for the followers, but for God, since he has gone to the trouble of setting this whole thing up? Well, that is where I think most Christians fall short. They can't explain the motivation. So, why would we be here? Some say God was bored, or needs worshipers, or was lonely. Um, sorry, just doesn't add up.

Now, when you add His Son into it, that gives more factors that need to be accounted for. Why did he come? What did he come for? "He paid for our sins." they say. Ok, why did he do that? Why did he need to do that? Well, a little more long term thinking here. There are eternal consequences for things. Everything has its consequence, and then the state it is in due to that consequence persists until it is acted upon from an outside source. This is called Justice or "cause and effect". (Its part of the laws of physics, in case it seems too foreign.) He paid for our sins because the effect of paying for our own leaves us eternally miserable. He could do it and not be miserable because He is perfect. He has unlimited ability to pay.

He did it because He loves us. And not just because we belong to Him or that He created us. I made a really neat desk that I just love, but I think the relationship I have with God should not be that of a piece of furniture or even some kind of pet. He loves us because we are His family. God calls us his children. I think that is literal. I think that just like our children grow up to be like us, we can grow up to be like God. I am not talking mortality here. We all die long before we get it right, but he didn't expect us to get it right here. That is why He sent Jesus Christ. All you other religions... sorry, you have no way to address the demands of Justice, but Christ can. It's the only way. We have to meet His demands, and He pays for our mistakes, and He doesn't expect us to be perfect, just trying our best.

So, if you really believe and your belief system really can satisfy the hard questions, then you may not be a human lemming. Everybody else... would it make any difference if I told you there was a cliff up ahead?

April 7, 2010


So, last night, my kids were asking kid questions (What is this?, What is that?, How does .....?) and the subject of lemmings came up. They were somewhat incredulous that lemmings would be so stupid as to all kill themselves. Then my wife mentioned that sometimes people are guilty of lemming behavior. At first she indicated political lemming behavior, but then we also noted a lot of other lemming type behavior. Whether it be political lemmingness, or if it's fashion, substance abuse, gang behavior, career paths, or any of a large variety of consumerism behaviors, it is far too reminiscent of a bunch of lemmings hurtling down a path with no sense of awareness or concern that they are about to go over a cliff to their deaths.

Really folks, aren't we more capable than that? Are we so perpetually comatose that we don't even think about our actions ahead of time? How about a little more than that, perhaps we could even contemplate the short term consequences for our actions. Ok, and I know this is a stretch, but how about going a little further to mid term consequences. Ok, yeah, I know, pretty painful there, but we are going to stretch you even more. Now we are going to think about long term consequences. Now that is raw agony, isn't it? But wait, can you see that? Most of the stupid things we do in our culture are really dumb in the long term. Better not to do it at all. Man, if we all thought things through, things might get down right nice. But then, think how boring it would be with out all those lemming problems.

April 5, 2010

Public Spectrum WiMax Mesh

Ok, I have held onto this one for a while, but I have talked it around, and even got a wireless services guy at AT&T to listen to it. His objective was that it wouldn't fit the business model, even though it would work and be awesome. He also said that their investment into their current technology was far too high to want to try a different approach. His last objection, although, he wanted this off the record, was that AT&T would view this as a big potential loss of control and don't want people to have options cause they wouldn't make as much.

Well, this one is good enough that we don't need a big brother type company to implement it, but whoever did would make bank on it cause the mentality of all the other players would keep them out of the market for too long.

The idea is that we use WiMax or some similar wireless broadband technology, but configure it to use public spectrum and build low cost wireless repeater mesh units to provide internet connectivity to anyone wanting to participate. Now, it would be best if there was some kind of backbone access control system that made sure that every so often, one of these repeater units was plugged into a fiber line. Otherwise, likely there would be too many freeloaders wanting free access, but really, once figured out, one of these units should be able to be made for less than a couple hundred dollars, and the cost would really come down over time.

Naturally, the repeater density in metropolitan areas would greatly exceed that in suburbs and rural areas, and, there might be a slightly higher cost per user in rural areas, but I can picture that monthly internet access could easily be as low as 10 to 15 dollars for near unlimited access. (Oh, sure, I can also picture a bandwidth cap or a tiered system, but for most of us, like, 99% of us, we would be on the bottom tier, cause we just don't use that much.)

How about it people, should we do this? It would take some time and resources, but it would be a great solution. (I can picture all the neighborhoods and HOA's out there providing this as part of their services). Once it started becoming common, all the devices would start being made with the capability built in. Then, we really could get great access from everywhere, and the money grubbing, control freak big brother companies like AT&T could be gone, and we wouldn't miss them one bit. How great would that be?

Localized Energy

Energy, specifically electricity, has been a wonderful blessing to many people, yet at the same time, it has been used to enslave populations. I hate to admit it, but I have a green streak also, where I hate to see our energy systems pollute so much as well. Additionally, I think energy systems would be a lot more effective if they were localized and then only tied together to the grid, but able to operate independently when needed.

I have heard many proposals and detractors of those proposals regarding locally generated power. When I say locally generated, I mean something that doesn't require outside resources to continue to run. For some places, that would make natural gas turbines a real viability, but for most places, that leaves as options solar, wind, and water. (I don't accept nuclear as a local option because of the setup cost, and continual problem of nuclear waste.) Yeah, I know, all of these options will generally need outside resources to get going, but once they are set up, they can go for many years without additional outside resources (There is a solution to that problem too, but that will have to be another post).

So, after my walk today, I was thinking about my power bills. I have always like the idea of being able to produce my own power. There are a lot of problems with producing your own power. The initial cost of any solution out there is pretty prohibitive to start with, but even if that wasn't an issue, there are other considerations that need to be addressed. One of the biggest is that we often don't use power when it is best generated, so I would have to have some kind of storage. Now, that starts getting expensive, cause mostly we are talking about batteries now. Batteries are one of the weakest links of any power storage system. They wear out, they are usually toxic, they require big infrastructures to create and support them. They are just a lousy answer, but, that is usually what comes to mind.

What if we had some other way to store energy? Two other solutions came to mind. The first is hydrogen storage. We just take the energy we are creating and not using and generate hydrogen with it, store it, and when we need electricity, or hydrogen to burn for things like cooking, we pull from our storage tanks. Well, hydrogen storage isn't such a simple thing. It is expensive, requires large expensive infrastructures, and is prone to failure. Ok, well what about that other idea.

I would call this one kinetic storage. You hook some kind of generating electric motor (one that is about equally efficient both ways) to a big pulley system that lifts something really heavy upward. It doesn't have to be that high, as the cables that lift it would feed into the pulley system so, when you have extra energy, you send the extra to the generator motor, and lift that big weight, and when you need that energy back, you allow the weight to run it the other way, and generate electricity with it. The weight doesn't have to be that expensive. The structure housing it wouldn't need to be that complex, just strong enough. It could be easily secured in a variety of ways.

So, what would we use for the weight. How about a big iron box with rocks in it, or if it was adequately sealed, put water in it. Hmm, if you put water in it, it could be lighter when you lifted it up, and then lift the water a little at a time. That might be a pretty good approach, when it got to the bottom, it would release the water, and lift the tank back up, and then start filling it again.

Hmm, if you used a gravity piston pump, you could have the thing be your primary generation system, that would store it automatically without converting it to electricity and then back, and you could do it without destroying the streams by damming them up all the time. You would require a decent water flow to make it work, but most of that water (90%) would continue downstream uninterrupted. only 10% would be used to power the system before it continued downstream as well. Hmm, I guess that could also provide a solution for water storage as well, but, that is another issue, even though the solution is right here.

Yes, I know, this won't work for everyone. It requires a decent water flow and elevation drop to make the piston pump work, but, if you had to run from a well, windmills have been used to pump water for longer than they have been used to generate electricity. And, last but not least, you could generate electricity with solar to pump the water from a well. Not as inexpensive and elegant as the gravity pump, but, still it would work.

Sharing ideas

I have lots of ideas. I always hope my ideas can somehow be of some value to me. I think, for the most part, I have to limit which ideas I keep for myself. I guess that means I need to share my ideas with the world, and let them do what they will with it.

Well, this morning, I have a few ideas I am going to share. I long have been displeased with the way our modern world works. It isn't that I don't like modern technology. Quite to the contrary, I love modern technology, but I don't like how it is limited to the benefit of the few and the expense of the many. And the truly have-nots are excluded from it.

I think technology is there to bless the lives of everyone, regardless of country, region, religion, race, or social class. I think my biggest gripe is how the utility companies work. Sure, they have to make a profit, and they provide a service that is of great value, but they do their best to limit options and punish anyone not wanting to play their way. I would also extend that to the oil companies. They don't have to do it that way. They could still be wildly profitable and give lots of options to everyone. Sure there would be those who don't want to play that way. I just think they are corrupt, selfish, and devilish in their mentalities and methods.

My next couple posts deal with what I see as systems that should be developed and used where ever possible.