John Heylin's Blog Posts

When Panhandling Meets Digital Currency

August 26 2008 / by John Heylin
Category: Social Issues   Year: General   Rating: 4

If you work in a major city chances are you see the homeless everyday, deftly ignoring their gaze or side-stepping their outstretched hands. Yet despite our avoidance, we still occasionally give them a dollar from our pockets. But one thing I’ve never heard people discussing is this – With the digitization of money, what will happen to the homeless?

Our society is inexorably moving closer to a world where paper currency is going to be obsolete. Even small items such as coffee get the plastic treatment for the person on the go. When you pay for your coffee, what are the odds you charge it to a card? Chances are you opt for either credit or debit. In effect, we are eliminating spare hard change.

I experienced this phenomenon just a few months ago when coming out of my local butcher shop. Having paid for everything with my credit card, I had no spare change for the man who sets up shop just outside. He asked me for change, I replied that I had none. Because this statement was true I felt great that I was able answer truthfully while still employing evasive maneuvers.

With hard currency becoming increasingly scarce, perhaps what panhandlers need is a card-scanning device, much like MasterCard has right now withPayPass where purchases under $25 just need a wave of the card. We’d have to outfit every panhandler with a card reader that deducts $1 from people who swipe their cards across their device.

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Would Styrofoam Housing Work?

August 25 2008 / by John Heylin
Category: The Home   Year: General   Rating: 6 Hot

I recently came upon an interesting article about a village in Japan being built entirely out of Styrofoam. The walls of these buildings are pretty thick, but it only takes three people a few hours to assemble and a layer of mortar and paint ensure protection from the elements. Here’s a short clip of the actual assembly…

Having grown up in a Bucky Fuller dome structure, I immediately took a liking to this shape. Not only is the dome incredibly strong, but it also uses less material than the average home. But having also been raised by hippies, any mention of the word Styrofoam sends chills down my spine. I agree, it’s a great material for a dome structure in that it’s highly insulated against cold and hot temperatures and, like in the video, very easy to build. But there are myriad problems with such a building material.

For instance, the disposal of the houses would be an environmental catastrophe. Also, imagine the toll that 20 years of sun and rain would exert on such a light and highly corrosive structure. There’s a reason water is called the Universal Solvent – it can eat through just about anything given enough time. The idea of an entire village, much less a country, having all its Styrofoam houses replaced is staggering (maybe ship them to war-torn countries to be made into napalm?).

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How Lazy Are We Going to Get?

August 22 2008 / by John Heylin
Category: Social Issues   Year: General   Rating: 4

We’ve all enjoyed the level of comfort certain gadgets have brought us. From the incredibly useful back-scratcher to the universal remote, technology and design has made our lives easier. But the real question is this: How lazy are we going to let technology get us?

In the extreme scenario, even our jobs are taken over by machines. Instead of working eight hours a day, we’d get a weekly allowance from the government for purchases such as hotel stays at exotic resorts or a faster electric car. House repairs, food issues, and even the lawn is taken care of by nanobots (it’d only be a one-time purchase since they can repair each other in case of breakage). You find yourself waking when you want, going wherever you want, and eating whatever you want. But you feel your life has no purpose.

Would our life have a purpose? In having everything taken care of, wouldn’t it feel like we were living in a hamster cage? Having our every need taken care of, we’d mill about looking at random things, bathing every so often, while some other entity takes care of everything. We’d be pets. And like most pets, we’d get fat and unhealthy (unless the nanobots also take care of that or course).

Even if we had a job, knowing that the only reason you have it is because you asked for it would seem demoralizing. “Yes sir, please turn off the computer so I can answer the phones myself. Yes, I know it’s silly, but I just have to do work you see.” It’d be like spending days putting together a model ship when a robot could build an exact working replica in less than an hour. What’s the point?

Coupled with your own personal work station that takes care of your every need (food, bathroom, washing) while keeping you connected to the global web like a prison you never want to leave. A perfect example would be the book Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury where the main characters wife lives only to watch television, yet still keeps trying to kill herself. She’s been dumbed down to the point where she has no reason to live, no purpose, no feeling or history. Many think the book is about censorship, but he’s stated himself that the book is about how television destroys interest in actual information, the dumbing of society.

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The Computer of the Near Future?

August 22 2008 / by John Heylin
Category: Technology   Year: General   Rating: 4

Here’s an interesting demo video depicting a vision of what the computer might look like in 2020. The reason for posting this is that it’s truly different than most of the other “computers of the future” videos I’ve seen on the web. Check it out:

The obvious problem with this theoretical computer is that it is in fact just a computer. Many people expect that in the future computers will be more than just computers. To appease the consumer, computers will need to play music, take photos, write papers, make phone calls, interface with your home, or even give back massages. This is just a small projector crammed into a small yet powerful computer. Not so exciting when you think about it, eh?

But there is something we can take out of a demo like this. If we view this as a possible guide for future development instead of an actual product then it immediately seems less ridiculous. There are indeed advancements being made in laser keyboards. Even storage space is becoming so cheap that we find ourselves asking if we really need a 500 Gigabyte hard drive, much less a two Terabyte hard drive. If we keep throwing out ideas, no matter how crazy, some of the good ones will stick and hopefully find their way into future products. Keep thinking, keep producing, you’re helping.

Deadly Armies of Robotic Children

August 21 2008 / by John Heylin
Category: Security   Year: General   Rating: 4

If there’s one thing a science fiction movie will guarantee you, it’s that friendly looking robots will be friendly, and evil looking robots will kill you. As we get closer and closer to an age where robots take a more important role in our lives in both the civilian and military sense, I somehow doubt the builders of military robots will follow the unspoken laws of mass storytelling. With international PR increasingly becoming more important, will military robots all be made to look like death-machines? Or will they take on a more harmless look of, let’s say, Pound Puppies?

Although the image of an army of killer puppy robots equipped with the latest artillery might cause one to smirk, it may not be too far off. Friendly-looking robots, much like friendly-looking humans, are more likely to be perceived as harmless than your standard military death-machine. WALL-E, armed with fifty pounds of C-4, can get places where the army’s latest killer robot couldn’t.

With robots continually achieving a more human look, it would make sense for the military to eventually design robots that like children instead of Terminator’s famed T-101 cyborg. And with robotics jumping in leaps and bounds all the time, suicide-ready humanoid robots are that much closer to reality.

Even if a rocket-laden robot tank could strike a lot of fear into an enemy, friendly looking robots have a greater chance of avoiding attacks as well as slipping into enemy lines. Face it, Skynet went wrong in making Arnold their model of robot — it should have been puppies.

Image: Kris Van de Vijver (Flickr,CC-Attribution)

The Technology Waiting Game

August 21 2008 / by John Heylin
Category: Technology   Year: General   Rating: 5

It seems like everyday we’re greeted with yet another energy-saving device that is not only more efficient, but cheaper to boot. A quick romp through the Future Scanner using the terms “energy” and “efficient” bring up more articles than you could digest in a single sitting. There are nano-crystals that increase thermoelectric power by 40%, low-cost super-efficient solar cells that may put current solar panels in the same bin with the 8-track, and even a dye that could increase solar efficiency by over 50%.

So with technology accelerating at such a fast pace, why do we spend money on soon to be outdated technology?

In California’s push towards responsible energy, they’re planning to build two solar power stations whose total wattage production will come out to a breathtaking 800 megawatts and will cover an estimated 12.5 square miles of land. This is part of the ground work the Golden State is laying in order to have more than 20% of its energy come from renewable resources. But are they wasting their time?

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Today's Luxury Interfaces Will Soon Be the Norm

August 19 2008 / by John Heylin
Category: The Web   Year: General   Rating: 5

Is the computer of today, the traditional screen and keyboard, as far as we’re going to go in experiencing the Internet? Or is our involvement in actually “surfing” the web going to take on a more literal tone. Movies like The Matrix and Ghost in the Shell offer us a brief glimpse into a future where human interaction with the Internet is so complex that bodies must be modified in order to be a part of it. Simply put, the Internet gets so advanced that a monitor and keyboard just won’t be enough. In fact, it’s increasingly looking as if our future browsing experience will be one where entire walls of our homes are covered by screens, holographic images immerse us into the global web, and our slightest thought sends us soaring through a social network composed of billions of people, trillions of photos and unknown hours of video.

While the plug-in future of the Matrix is still decades off, what new products are transforming personalized workstations today?

First on the list is the Zero-Gee Ergonomic Workstation. While it’s a pretty simple design, it’s still a piece of furniture specifically designed for working on the computer. It’s ergonomic design allows the user to maintain good posture as well as giving them the ability to lie flat and work at the same time. Its single-seat design means it’s not going to replace the family desk, but more than likely be an addition to the home office environment. The slung-down feel of it, coupled with another screen, would make a gaming experience so intense you might have to shell out for some custom sweat-absorbing seat covers for those late-night gaming sessions.

Then there’s Digital Edge’s Gaming Table. This setup is specifically for the intense gamer — a person who lives and breathes flight simulators and the like. The controls are all placed in the most comfortable and ergonomic positions for easy access and ultimate handling. Throttle, joystick, steering wheel and an all-encompassing display is tempting for just about anyone craving the experience of mid-air dogfights and gut-wrenching car races. (Now if only they could cram this into an actual cockpit for a truly surreal experience.)

Looking like a Star Wars battle-droid is the Gravitonus. Designed partially with the disabled in mind, this ergonomic workstation has everything from a seat which adjusts to the Earth Gravitational Field vector for greater comfort, overhead LEDs for less glare on the four possible LCD screens, a ventilated seat with airflow fans, surround sound, an exoskeleton to take strain off of the users body, and a kitchen sink. Okay, not a kitchen sink, but you get the idea. If you’re looking for an amazing workstation (sans printer, drawers, etc) then this is your best bet. Now you just have to fork over the $7,000+ to get it made and shipped it from Moscow.

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Mapping the Body: the New Marketplace

August 19 2008 / by John Heylin
Category: Entertainment   Year: General   Rating: 4

The most amazing thing about some of the movies hitting theaters nowadays is their uncanny ability to map human movement for special effects. Case in point are creatures such as Gollum in The Lord of the Rings, the great ape in King Kong, and of course the infamous movie Beowulf which mapped out the actors bodies so accurately that in some of the shots you’d have sworn they weren’t computerized images. It only makes sense that this kind of technology would gradually find its way into the broader consumer market.

Already people are spending hundreds on golf clubs that measure swing speed and trajectory, or gloves that tell you if you’re gripping the handles too hard. In fact there are even devices out there already that can tell you where your swing is wrong, if your feet are too far apart, or if your posture is poor. You can buy equipment and software that can work for just about any sport. Tennis, bowling, baseball or track and field to name a few. Heck, even curling, the greatest Olympic sport in the world, could benefit from video analysis.

Down the road we could see the technology get so advanced that instead of having to carry around 30 pounds of equipment costing over a thousand dollars, all we’ll need is an add-on to our digital cameras. Coupled with expert analysis instead of self-analysis, this product could change the importance and role of coaches worldwide.

Sports are perfect for this technology, but what other applications could this be used for?

Imagine taking tango lessons in your home with a world-class dancer telling you where you’re going wrong and what you’re doing right. A culinary program showing you the proper way to clean a fish or prepare cherries jubilee. If we really expand our minds, how about a mobile program on a sailboat speaking into your ear piece whether you’re on the port side instead of starboard, or telling you how to tie a knot step by step. What would you think about taking karate lessons from Jet Li?

If you enjoy Wii Fit, imagine playing a video game that depends on your every move. When attacking an entrenched bunker you have to lay lay flat on the ground, then jump up quickly to sprint across a mine field. Or maybe you have to dodge a lineman to dive and score the winning touchdown.

The possibilities are almost endless and not all that far from feasible.

But would there be a downside to this kind of technology?

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Doomsday Scenario: The EMP

August 21 2008 / by John Heylin
Category: Security   Year: General   Rating: 4

The US Navy recently spent 7.5 million dollars on developing an Electro-Magnetic Pulse (EMP) generator. The by-product of a nuclear blast, an EMP fries anything electronic within its reach. In a worse-case scenario, a massive nuclear bomb could be detonated over the Atlantic seaboard, knocking out electricity in cities like New York, Washington DC, Boston and Philadelphia. This could be used as a pre-emptive strike for an invasion, to blind radar to incoming missiles or for some other nefarious purpose. Knocking out electronics for a few weeks might just be enough to send our culture into complete chaos. In effect, we’re hard at work building such a weapon to test its effects on potential military and civilian targets so as to better prepare in case of attack.

Our culture has become incredibly dependent on electronic gadgets and information networks. Land-lines have been replaced by cellphones, the postal system by email and social network websites. Is there any doubt that even just ten years down the line our dependence will grow even more? Our reliance on electronics certainly isn’t going to diminish, it’s going to increase exponentially. With that in mind, how much damage could an EMP do in the near future?

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Invisibility Cloak: What for art thou?

August 18 2008 / by John Heylin
Category: Social Issues   Year: General   Rating: 5

Just about everyone at some point in their lives (mostly childhood) has desired to possess a Harry Potter style invisibility cloak. The boundaries would have been limitless. No candy store would have been safe, no locker room unwatched, and no secret whisperings left unheard. Our infatuation with invisibility has gotten so intense that researchers are working nonstop to try and perfect an invisibility cloak for who knows what market. The military? The budding private eye? What could we possibly use them for?

The civilian applications of such a device all seem to have nefarious agendas. Think about it — What would you do with an invisibility cloak? Would you follow your kids to school? Sneak out to get the mail in your birthday suit? Like a t-shirt with the slogan “I just do what the voices tell me,” the novelty would soon wear off. There just isn’t any reason why the average person should have an invisibility cloak.

What about the military? Invisibility cloaks could come in handy for all sorts of missions and tactical situations. Someone invisible can get a lot closer to a target and disappear a lot quicker than someone without.

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