Tuesday, November 4, 2014

I voted today...

I went to the vote this morning. I'm pretty lucky that my polling center is less than two miles from my house. As I entered the polling center room, six septuagenarian women sat in a line behind some folding tables.

The process was:

  • Lady #1 asked my name
  • Lady #2 looked through a box of cards for my name
  • Lady #2 handed me my card to sign
  • I signed it
  • Lady #3 took the signed card, found my signature in a binder with local citizens signatures, and compared them
  • Lady #3 decided it was the same signature, then ripped a ticket off the card I signed, and handed it to Lady #4
  • Lady #4 escorted me to the polling booth
  • The polling booth is electronic, and Lady #4 had to insert what looked like an Atari 2600 cartridge into a slot enabling me to vote
  • I voted
  • Lady #6 said goodbye to me as I left
(Lady #5 just sat there)

How ridiculous is this process. I would say it's a hold-over from 18th century (maybe earlier), but there was the Atari 2600 cartridge, so it's just a hold-over from the 1970's.

When can we do this on the internet?!?!?!?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Keystroke power bluetooth keyboard

With the popularity of the Hanx Writer, it got me thinking about typewriters - something I hadn't thought about in quite a while! I remember my Dad had an old manual one. By comparison to today's ultra thin keyboards, the keystroke was really long - but I remember my Dad typing on it pretty fast.

I wonder if you could harness the power of the keystroke to power a bluetooth keyboard? Maybe the carriage return lever could be used to 'rev it up' & connect via bluetooth. Not sure it's too useful, but it'd be cool...

* I vaguely remember a conversation about this with a buddy of mine several years ago. Remember this Radney?

Monday, September 8, 2014

Taxes: Part 1 - National Sales Tax

While there are certainly some people that hate all taxes, I accept taxes as something you need to operate a nation. I'd guess that taxes 'as a concept' don't bother people as much as the implementation, especially:
1) The crazy complicated method we have of calculating taxes
2) The crazy stuff the tax money is spent on

But taxes aren't only for collecting revenue - they also can be used to influence behavior. Because citizens/corporations will try to avoid paying taxes - and they'll try hard!

We're running a deficit big time. Not fair at all to the younger generations. And we probably can't make ends meet just by cutting spending. We need more revenue. Here my first suggestion:
Add a national sales tax

Not much - no more than 3%. And exempt, food, clothing, shelter - all the necessities. In general, sales taxes are regressive, so it shouldn't be too high. This will increase revenues, and is easy to collect since retail operations are already set up to deal with state sales taxes.

But here's the twist on it that could have some influence:
• If a company has it's headquarters and manufacturing in the US (and pays it's corporate taxes) then their products are sales tax free.

This might stem the tide of corporate inversions, and actually get some manufacturing jobs back into the US...

Saturday, September 6, 2014

A Personal Car-Integrated Shopping Cart

You know how the wheeled legs of an ambulance stretcher automatically fold up when the stretcher is pushed into the back of the ambulance? It'd be cool to use that same concept for a personal shopping cart in your automobile.

So, the car (a hatchback style, or Minivan/SUV) would come with it's own shopping cart. The cart could be branded too, so you could walk through the grocery with your <insert brand> cart - good advertising.

Everything in the store would happen the same way. You'd check out at the cash register, they'd load you bags into your cart. Then you'd go to the parking lot, open the hatch, and just push the cart right into the back of the vehicle, and close the hatch.

I guess you could then wheel the cart into the kitchen at home, but the wheels might be dirty. Anyway, it'd save unloading into the car, putting the cart into the cart bin, etc. And if it caught on, the stores wouldn't have to have so many carts & people dealing with the carts...

Monday, August 25, 2014

Copy path of file on SMB share on a Mac and convert to Windows format using Automator

I'm on a Mac. Most of my co-workers are on PCs. We store files on a network attached storage device that 'talks' Samba. I like to send links to files via email (instead of the file itself). So I need a quick way to convert the Mac/Linux file path format to the Windows format. I couldn't find it easily, and it took me several tries, so I thought I'd post the way to do it.

1) Have one of your PC colleagues send you a link to a file on the shared storage device.  It'll look something like: \\companyname.com\storage\depts\org_chart.doc

2) Then look at the way that same file appears to you via terminal. Probably something like:

So, you need to substitute Volumes with companyname.com\storage, and then flip the forward slashes with backslashes.

3) Open Automator. 

4) Click "New Document"

5) Choose "Service"

6) Have your Automator Window look like this (but replace insert PC path with forward slashes with company name.com/storage):

7) Save it to something like "Copy Windows Path"

Now let's test it.

8) Use your Finder to go to the file. Control-Click (or two-finger tap) on the file, select Service, Copy Windows Path"

9) Paste it into an email.

Yay! You've made Windows users happy. Well, as happy as they could be... ;-)

Friday, August 22, 2014


Now that I have new commute down to CMU campus, I have much more time to think (and yell at traffic!). One of the things I think about is traffic.

My house is ~17 miles from work according to Apple maps. It takes my ~30 minutes to/from work in light traffic. For me to use the bussing system, it'd take 3 stops & ~90+ minutes each way, not including driving to the first stop. So, I don't take the bus.

If I had to drive to a bus stop (<15 minutes away), and could take the bus all the way to campus in a non-stop direct way, I'd do it. (It'd be good if the bus offered wifi)

It'd be possible to get a good dataset from campus garages, monitoring license plates numbers arrival & departure times. Plus, the parking system @ CMU has a reference of license plate numbers to home address. Seems like you could come up with a pretty good time-location map for suburb-to-campus-to-suburbs. Any large business downtown with a parking system could do it.

Riders would drive to various 'spots' around the city based on where they live (maybe a large church parking lot, or mall - some place with space during the workweek). A bus would be there at a specific time, load up the people, drive straight to campus/work. Reverse at end of work day.

I wonder if that kind of bussing could catch on? I think employees/faculty/staff would like it 'cause driving in rush hour stinks. CMU should like it because if it did catch on the could reduce the amount of precious campus space they dedicate to parking lots - I'm sure other businesses would feel the same. Pittsburgh should like it 'cause it reduces traffic. Oh, and it's green too.

(Update: As someone astutely pointed out, many Silicon Valley companies have chartered bus service as described, including the infamous Google Bus)

An even crazier idea:

What if the 'spots' were public schools. And instead of me driving to one, I rode the bus with my kids to school. They'd go to class, I get on the bus to CMU. (Other parents would get on the bus to UPMC,  PNC, etc.) The school busses (retrofitted with wifi) could even be used for transport. Drop the kids off, drop the parents off.

Then I wouldn't need a car during the week, & I'd get to spend more time with my kids. It could be an extra income stream for school bussing too...

Friday, July 25, 2014

Converting to a 'Standing Desk' Office

I'd read several articles about Standing Desks (including Standing desks sit well with more employees & Five Health Benefits of Standing Desks), and thought it sounded interesting. I've always been a little fidgety & thought standing my accommodate that more. Plus I do get some lower back pain when I sit too long (probably because I slouch), and prolonged sitting can literally be a pain in the ass... So, thought I'd give standing a shot.

People that know me know I'm cheap frugal, so while there are some awesome standing desks out there, I didn't want to spend a lot of money. I thought a better (& cheaper!) way would be to convert my current office furniture to a standing desk environment. For a desk, that just means putting something under it to lift it to the right height. I also figured that'd I want to sit sometimes, so that means converting my chair into a stool - that requires changing the gas lift cylinder (I'm lucky enough to have a work-supplied Herman Miller Aeron, but I was told that the cylinder dimension is a standard, so this should work for most chairs). And for guest chairs, well conversion wouldn't work with what I had, so a trip to Ikea was in order.

I bought the following from Amazon:
I removed the screws from the jack stands, which exposes and indent at the top of the jack. The width of the indent was wide enough that the feet on the bottom of my desk would fit in it - and that's what I did.

Converting the chair was challenging. The chair disassembly instructions told me to hit the chair with a hammer until the old cylinder falls out. I used a rubber mallet. I had to hit the thing dozens of times, but the cylinder did come out eventually. The replacement cylinder fits perfectly.

For guest chairs I got the Ikea Franklin bar stool with backrest, 29" height.

I almost forgot, I also got a mat to stand on from Home Depot, the Apache Mills Basketweave comfort mat. I move it out of the way when I sit.

The office looks like this now:

(hmmmm... I need to vacuum...)

Friday, June 13, 2014

Lipreading texting interface

It's funny that on our 'phones' these days we do little talking. It's also funny that although we could just talk to someone with the phone, we choose to text them. I do it too. For lots for reasons, but the one I'm thinking about right now is that it is quiet, and therefore somewhat private, and you can text in lots of places where talking would be inappropriate (like meetings, presentations, etc.)

But boy, typing on these smart phones is not a great experience.  The finger size-to-key size ratio is just too large.

I sometimes use Siri as speech-to-text entry, but again, you're limited by places you need to be quiet, and by places that are too noisy.

So, wouldn't it be cool to use that 'selfie' camera on the front of the phone as a lipreading text input? You'd get your lips in focus, and then breathlessly mouth the words, and watch the words appear in the text window.

Would it look weird to others? Yeah. But they'd get used to it, 'cause they'd do it too.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

A Social Network I'd be Interested In...

Seeing ProtonMail's introduction this week made me think again about privacy on the internet - there's not much of it.  I'm not too concerned about people snooping on me on the internet (I'm pretty boring), but in principle it bothers me. Collecting my searches to find my interests, scanning my emails to figure out demographic info - all in the name of selling ads. I guess it pays the bills for the company to offer internet services, but is there another way?

How about this instead:
Part 1
Instead of 'guestimating' who I am and what I'm interested in by monitoring me, let me provide the information.

On the social networking site I'd fill in my age, gender, where I live, what I do, my favorite brands, where I shop, what I plan to buy in the week/month/year, etc. If they needed more info, they could ask me, I could decide if I want to share it. And I could remove info if I wanted. They'd take that info and match me with relevant ads, coupons, etc.

Why would I give up that info?

Because they'd give me a cut of the advertising fees that are generated by users. The more info I give, the bigger cut I'd get.

Yeah, it wouldn't amount to much over a year (a couple of dollars?), but it'd be more than I'm getting now, and it'd stop them from snooping my stuff. Plus, if the social networking company could count used coupons towards that, it might start to look like real money.

[A few of points:

  • Note that I didn't say 'a cut of the advertising fees that I generate' - that'd make people try to game the system. 
  • The user would need to supply a credit card too, so this social networking company could match it to a name/address - this would prevent people from registering 1000 times to increase revenue.
  • Lastly, it'd be great for the social networking company if they could get feedback on how effective their ads are, maybe with personalized coupons with special codes?]

Part 2
Instead of having a centralized data center where all social posts are stored (for ad processing...), have the data center just hold the data until everyone in your 'circle' has received the post. Have each users own computer hold all posts of their friends (or an encrypted slice on their portion of the cloud). New friends get access to new posts only, not the new's friends entire history of posts. Almost like an automated email, where your friends are CC'd.

This makes things more temporal, and (again) more private. Yes, you'd 'miss' public posts from non-friends, but is that missing much?

Who could provide this? I think it'd be hard for a start-up to jump in an make waves with this. Facebook & Google would be crazy to do it - give away some of their revenue stream? But for Yahoo!, this could work (what have they got to lose?). Or maybe someone like Amazon - they'd get feedback on how well the ads work. I guess American Express/Visa/MC could try too?

Tuesday, May 27, 2014


I think of products & services while I'm on my Sunday morning jog.  Sometimes I'll have ideas cutting the grass too.  Mindless physical activity apparently releases my creative juices.  Go figure.

Anyway, we just put in our garden a couple of weeks ago.  I put up a fence around it to keep the deer and other animals out. We need to net the berry bushes too so the birds don't eat everything.

Got me thinking - "Is there a more high tech way to guard against those critters?"

A motion & heat sensing robot with a super soaker was my idea. I thought it'd be cool if it was solar powered, and used rain water to fill it's reserves.  Of course, it'd be nice if it could communicate with you to let you know if it was low on charge or 'ammo'.  A camera to film the defensive maneuvers would be fun too.

Like a great number of my ideas, I wasn't the first one to think of it: