As I took part in the usual twice yearly ritual this morning of “find the clock I’ve forgotten to change”, I noticed that the video was still on BST from October … And it got me thinking about how long it will be before changing clocks is a thing of the past. Not because someone finally convinces enough of a majority that we should abandon the concept, but more because all of our clocks will automatically update themselves.
Already, many smartphones, computers and tablets update themselves, either from time synchronisation over the Internet or by built-in knowledge of time zones and daylight savings formulae from around the world.
Many TVs and set top boxes will get a time signal over the air, as will digital radios. GPS is used for time setting a lot these days too and you’ve been able to get clocks that can receive the time signal (is it still from Rugby?) for ages.
So all we need now are radio/network connected ovens and microwaves, smartphones have already replaced wristwatches for many, that just leaves those cheap wall clocks that take a single AA battery.
So when you can buy cheap kids clocks in the 99p stores that auto update, I’ll know we reached the point where people will just wake up one day in March wondering why they are still feeling tired, not noticing that the clocks changed without their knowledge. And similarly there will be that odd day in October where people apparently wake up a hour early for no specific reason.
All that will be really needed then is for children’s body clocks to auto synchronise too and the transformation will be complete.
Do you get fed up with today’s “the bonnet is welded shut” mentality to consumer electronics? I do.
Part of the issue, is that the drive for compactness is making the designs optimised for size rather than maintenance – so you get circuit boards shaped and interleaved around larger components, small ribbon connectors and carefully routed cables and so on. You also find that you need to know the exact order in which to unscrew things and pop them apart, and then work out if something is fixed by a clip, glue, screw or something else.
But it doesn’t need to be as hard as it is. There is also an annoying trend for hidden screws (often behind rubber feet or blanking panels that pop or stick on/off), speciality screws and one-way plastic fixings which makes the whole thing a lot more complicated than it needs to be.
But there is some hope. The excellent site ifixit.com has a massive range of guides for many popular consumer electronic devices. It is practically the haynes manual for electronics. Haynes themselves do have some computer related manuals, and a wide range of novelty manuals (sold ‘for kids’ – but they don’t say how big or small the kids have to be) – including Bob the Builder, Thomas the Tank Engine, the Millenium Falcon, Thunderbirds and a few others.
But the nice thing about the ifixit.com website is the community around it – you can see comments from fellow fixers and see how many people have rated and attempted the fix. It also lists the tools you need, and if you don’t have any you can help support the site by buying tools through them. You can also buy spare parts.
So, with a slight twist of irony, whilst my car is wide open to home mechanics, I’ve long since got fed up with getting my hands dirty, and seeing what look like simple steps in a haynes manual, which are performed on prestine, clean, non-rusted-up parts, turn into hours of frustration and finding out I’ve not got the right replacement washer or something. So today, I rely on a local, small garage round the corner and pay for their expertise and collection of tools and parts.
However with consumer electronics, I have most of the tools, already have the ‘well if its broken anyway I have nothing to lose’ mentality and enough of a background in basic electronics and computers to challenge the consumer electronics industry attempts at stopping me having a go. And the parts are rarely rusted shut or covered in oil (the odd exception being something whose last moments might have been spent left in a rainy sandpit! That tends to be fairly terminal). With a little dust to clear here and there and some basic static precautions I’m quite ready to have a go. In fact the most risky part is keeping the kids away from the carefully laid out screws and fittings as the thing comes apart – especially if something has to be taken apart and then left until a new part is sourced and delivered from some speciality online store or ebay.
And so, courtesy of a new drive from ebay. a tri-wing screwdriver, a range of small phillips screwdrivers, the ifixit.com guide for replacing the drive on a Wii, and some peace and quiet from the kids, we have a functioning Wii again and can now try out some of the new games the kids got for Christmas.
It’s not as hard as you might think but naturally you will void warrenties and everything is done at your own risk – but as I said, if its broken, you can either pay for repair (cash for someone else’s time), just buy a new one (what a waste) or at least see how complicated it will be to have a go yourself.
I’ve recently got into Twitter, after having an account sitting unused for around 5 years and in that time some rather interesting, but slightly quirky videos have wandered past my twitter feed.
The Christmas Almost Number 1
First of all, a great candidate for a Christmas #1, but unfortunately they didn’t make it. They should have done. Funny, slightly tongue in cheek, a little humble, and musically very accomplished, is “Christmas Gets Worse Every Year” by ‘The Other Guys’ – 12 students from St Andrew’s University, in Scotland. See it for yourself here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9YvZn1hgIvo
Thanks to the QI Elves (@qikipedia) for that one.
A Pale Blue Animation
This is a nice animation to accompany Carl Sagan’s monologue ‘A Pale Blue Dot’, itself inspired by the most distant photograph taken of Earth – a photograph from Voyager 1 from a distance of almost 4 billion miles away . A thought provoking, perspective giving monologue with a slick animation to nicely drive home the meaning. See it here: http://vimeo.com/51960515
A Father-Daughter Yearly Pilgrimage
This is a nice story – every year Steve Addis takes his daughter to the same street corner in New York and takes a photo of him holding her. Something that started when she was a year old. This is a TED talk he shares his 15 most treasured photos from doing this, and the experience of getting a random stranger to take their picture – and how no-one has ever declined. See it here: www.ted.com/talks/steven_addis_a_father_daughter_bond_one_photo_at_a_time.htm
I can’t remember where I first saw that one retweeted, but now I subscribe to TED Talks (@tedtalks) to make sure I don’t miss any more.
Don’t Assume Anything
This is another one that I saw courtesy of a retween from someone and then followed up. It took me to the site of Richard Wiseman, that contains a number of very well done videos that challenge your views of the world – this is a particularly nice optical illusion. See it here: http://richardwiseman.wordpress.com/2012/12/20/do-you-make-assumptions/
Now I follow Richard Wiseman (@RichardWiseman) too.
The Boy and His Robot
This is a lovely tale about a boy and is robot companion. It combines the imaginary with the real, an idea of a fantasy future with the here-and-now and love, hate and dependency. You might be tempted to click back after a couple of minutes to whatever you were doing before, but don’t – I thoroughly recommend watching the full 12 minutes. Its sensitively surprising. See it here: http://io9.com/5970839/a-lovely-short-film-about-a-boy-and-the-robot-he-cant-get-rid-of
Thanks to IO9 (@io9) for that one.
So a very interesting first few weeks on twitter – long may it continue.
There is a lot of talk of “big data” – but I quite like the idea that big data means “more data than you have the computing power to process”. And that isn’t new. I particularly like this talk by John Graham-Cumming about big data – describing a big data problem they encountered … in the 1950’s. The blurb for the conference describes it thus:
It’s 1951 and you’ve got the world’s first business computer and you’ve just been handed a Big Data problem. Go! With 2K of memory it was powerful enough to run the then massive Lyons business. But it wasn’t long, in 1955, before Big Data came calling in the form of a request from British Rail to calculate the shortest distance between every one of their 5,000 railway stations.
So why mention it at all? Well there is an interesting discussion going on at the moment that we might soon be running out of metric units to describe big data. Andrew McAfee’s blog describes the problem:
Yotta- , signifying 10^24, is the only metrix prefix left on the list. Only 20+ years ago, we didn’t anticipate needing anything beyond yotta. It seems safe to say that before the current decade is out we’ll need to convene a 20th conference to come up with some more prefixes for extraordinarily large quantities not to describe intergalactic distances or the amount of energy released by nuclear reactions, but to capture the amount of digital data in the world.
Yotta? See wikipedia for the full list:
- kilo = 1,000
- mega = 1,000,000
- giga = 1,000,000,000
- tera = 1,000,000,000,000
- peta = 1,000,000,000,000,000
- exa = 1,000,000,000,000,000,000
- zetta = 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000
- yotta = 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000
Yes, that is 1 followed by 24 zeros. But even that might not be enough.
So what is being considered? Well some have suggested hella for 1 followed by 27 zeros, but I think that is missing a great opportunity. I think it should be helluva. Then we can have distances that are a helluvameter, really heavy things that are a helluvagram and if you are into really big data then obviously you need storage that has a helluvabyte in it.
Sometimes it seems like everything has to be ‘just in time’ or ‘on demand’.
Businesses don’t want to keep stock longer than they have to, so want to go for ‘just in time’ delivery to still deliver products ‘on demand’. Food is getting faster, but we want more choice ‘on demand’. Television is going ‘on demand’. We use our Internet bandwidth to send us a personalised schedule of programmes to watch when with a little planning and upfront preparation we could just catch it as it streams through the air. It is (currently at least) broadcast through the airwaves regardless of if we watch it or not – doesn’t it seem a little wasteful to then get it downloaded digitally using power, bandwidth, energy on a person-by-person basis?
But then that is kind of the point – people don’t do ‘up front’ anything anymore really. We like our cars, partly because we don’t have to attempt to plan a journey up front. In fact have you tried to negotiate you way around the complex mess that is the British rail system? Fine if you want to go somewhere on the same line as your town – but just try to even work out what lines you might need to get somewhere else – its very hard work. And forget attempting to browse to see if a short car or bus journey will take you cross country to a line that gets you somewhere more direct. No, for the most part the ‘system’ will suggest a 60 mile trip into a major city to change trains to bring you back those 60 miles, but passing within 10 of your original starting point.
There is the promise of a future integrated transport system. Or intelligent transport. Or smart cities and towns and smart cars (and I don’t mean those quirky cars branded ‘smart’ – I mean cars that talk to each other and the road network). There is the promise of an intelligent alarm clock that will know that your train is delayed by 10 minutes and so let you have an extra 10 minutes in bed, telling the coffee machine and water heater for the shower to adjust their timings accordingly.
There is the idea of fully intelligent and integrated transport systems, where buses, trains and road congestion is managed such that people pass through the system as efficiently as packets traversing computer networks. Of course, when timetables are planned by computers down to the minute, what happens when a key dependent node is delayed by a minute and a half?
We talk of intelligent software agents that will know what you like to read and collect and order the day’s news for you, so your time is spent only on the things it has worked out you think are important.
So in order to have a ‘just in time’ and ‘on demand’ society, something is scheduling, planning and organising everything to a high precision at an ever increasing macro level. It just won’t be people. People are forgetting how to plan.
Or at least how to plan for themselves. We hire ‘services’ to plan parties, weddings, meals, events. We use ‘on demand’ media to stop worrying about reading TV schedules in advance. We use ‘on demand’ films to not consider if we will watch a DVD enough to warrant purchasing a disk outright. We use online shopping when we decide we need to (or want to) to not bother planning a trip to the shops.
And much of our social communication is becoming ‘on demand’ too. In an era of mobile phones, there is much more ‘last minute’ decision making. Don’t know where to meet up? Txt when you arrive. Not sure where to eat? Use location based services to find a restaurant near your current location. Want an impromptu coffee? Just pop it up on Facebook and see if anyone turns up.
And messaging is going this way too. In times of (practically for many) limitless text messages, why bother thinking too hard about what you might need to say. One-word, non-thinking, ‘it’ll do’ answers are the norm. Take communicating with your teenager these days.
The ‘thinking ahead’ conversation:
- “Are you out tonight?”
- “Yes. Can I have a lift back? I’ll be at xyz and finished around 10pm”.
The actual conversation (each taking up a txt message):
- “Are you out tonight?”
- “How are you getting home?”
- “Can I have a lift?”
- “Where are you?”
- “What time will you be finished?”
Ok – actually, I lie – this is just teenagers and has been since time eternal. I remember responding in exactly the same way myself to my parents. The difference is each prompt and sentence costs another text.
Thinking ahead? Who needs it. Messaging and communications bandwidth are plentiful.
Well, we are now in the odd period where the media is bored hyping the build up to the Olympics – the torch relay, whilst being special to everyone it passes, has now become business as usual for the national news – but they don’t yet have any real sport stories to publish, so they are going through the “who can find the first major problem story” phase.
Hence, we are seeing “security shambles” stories, untrained border guards, and even armed responses closing motorways. Sometimes we manage to see a little common sense creeping in, but mostly fear, uncertainty and doubt reign supreme. Eventually, we will be able to adjust our society to cope with increasing security pressures and security thinking may become common place (link posted with tongue firmly in cheek), but for now, we all just muddle on.
So, with this background, this post is to report on the daftest Olympic disruption story I’ve seen so far.
London Metro: Toxic Caterpillars on the march – “Toxic caterpillars that could kill people with asthma are on the march, experts warn”. But wait, as if that wasn’t bad enough … “The caterpillars, whose toxic hairs are carried in the wind, have been found in west and south-east London. They could disrupt the Olympics by infesting trees near the Games, it is claimed.”
At least the BBC resisted mentioning the O word in their reporting – “Warning over rise in London’s toxic caterpillar population“.
So, maybe all Olympic guards being warned to look out for anyone carrying apples that have suspicious holes in them … Or maybe someone will just train homing pidgeons to drop them over Stratford.
That is infeasible I hear you cry? Well, insert your own favourite Olympic themed movie plot threat here instead 🙂
At least it might give the media something to report on until the sports events actually start.
Well, BT have been quite annoying recently – we had an unexpected large phone bill so rang them to pay it off, so as not to up our monthly payments … then it happened again during the next billing period too. The cause of the exception has hopefully been sorted now, but I’m still annoyed that BT didn’t do anything proactive to help. I’ve found out that I could have created some alerts against excessive usage, but at no point has anyone in their support told me that – I had to find it out myself!
Anyway, from today we are now trying PlusNet for phone. We’ve been with them for ages for Internet and their customer support has always been excellent for that – so we’ll see how we go.
If you want to try them too, feel free to use my referral link below!
Was on the train to London today and doing my usual activity for such occasions (i.e. dozing). I’d caught the slow one by mistake, which stops at most of the stations on the way, so was doing a bit more dozing than usual (not that I travel that regularly), then someone got on and sat next to me at Berkhamstead (I might have opened half and eye) …
Well 5 miles or so out of Euston the train stopped for a while and I started to wake up, then the lady who had sat next to me suddenly pointed across me (I was next the window) saying excitedly “did you see that? that bird?”. It then transpires that she had spotted an interesting bird in the urban trees beside the railway and we went on to talk a bit about cities, how rare it is to see some of what used to be typical birds for England (she was particularly pleased to tell me she had seen a wren once, and how small it was) and areas of the country that are preserved to allow birds to flourish.
It was such an unexpected event that it totally took me by surprise.
So, Justine (I think that was the name that came up on your blackberry) from Berkhamstead going to Ofcom (I presume from our short conversation) today (April 2012) – should by some incredible chance you happen to stumble across this post at some point in the future – thank you for a serendipitous, random act of enthusiasm over a simple event in the midst of a train of silent commuters in the middle of the city that made a total stranger smile at several points when recalling the encounter during his day.
Oh, and that report on how the brain optimises behaviours by building habits that I mentioned when you commented on the impulse to check your blackberry is here – http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/19/magazine/shopping-habits.html