Friday, January 25, 2008

Thursday, January 24, 2008


I enoy Facebook's naive assumption of honesty

On The Facebook (have you heard of it? I think it's gonna be big someday) if you say you're attending an event, that appears in your feed: "Richard Platel is attending blah blah". Then, after the date of the event has past, sometimes this appears in your feed "Richard Platel attended blah blah blah". Facebook just assumes that you're reliable, and if you say you're going to do something, you do it.

Monday, January 21, 2008

This is what I'm going to do

I'm going to make a chart. Along the left side of the chart will be the names of all the people I work with. Along the top of the chart will be a month's worth of days.

Every day that passes, I will put a gold star in some people's rows, I will have a computer program to generate random star assignments.

If anyone asks me what the chart is for, I will say "oh, just something [the CEO] asked me to do, I'm not supposed to talk too much about it."

Saturday, January 12, 2008

A little more on desktop fabrication.

When I read this, I though "oh man, that's cool, can I get one of those?!" If I had a desktop fabricator, and the artist made them available, I could just download the source files and print one myself. The source files already exist, the artist used rapid prototyping to make this thing, and we have this here Internet that's pretty good at spreading files around, all that's missing is the consumer-grade hardware.

Monday, January 7, 2008


Jack Layton-David Miller-NOW Magazine-lovin'Yup
lifestylistthis is not a word
neighbourhood-gentrifyingYup, sorry
all-organic eatingNope
CBC Radio-listeningYup
indy rock-lovingYup
spoiled altera-baby-producingNope
Lulu Lemon-consumingNope
non-profit (of the non-threatening type)-supportingYup
Canadian nationalistYup
trust fund-sustainedNope
MMP-voting (ha, losers!)Yup
Edmonton-Winnipeg originatingNope
Drake-Gladstone goingYup

What the hell I'm talking about

Two Things That Could Destroy The World

The big trick that humans came up with, that let us take over the world as a species was that we evolved the ability to evolve. If the giraffe species wants to reach the leaves at the top of the tallest trees it spends a million years evolving really long necks. If the human species wants to reach those leaves, someone invents a ladder, and then tells everyone about it. We have traits that exist outside of our DNA, our transmitted culture.

If you take a wolf cub and raise it away from other members of its species, it will still essentially be a wolf, it will hunt and be territorial and bay at the moon. If you raise a human away from society, it won't really be a modern human. It won't know language, or music or how to work a microwave or use a revolving door or ride the subway. The point I'm trying to make here is that the survival equipment that the human race brings to the table isn't all biological, it's not claws and teeth and tails and fins, it's ideas and methods and processes. This is what I mean when I say we evolved the ability to evolve, if we want a trait, say, the ability to store water, someone invents the urn, and then that becomes part of the collective culture, and then every human can do it, and we can iterate and improve the design and in 5000 years, we have municipal water systems and man made reservoirs and Evian and so on. We can evolve and transmit traits instantly rather than over millions of years.

Anyway, computer software, what is it? Well, about one lifetime ago, we had machines that could do things with numbers. Adding machines that could, well, add numbers, other machines that could generate logarithms, etc, etc. So, you have a bunch of numbers somewhere, you take the top two off the storage (a punched card, paper tape, whatever) do whatever your machine does to the numbers and put them back in storage. Then someone realized that you could make a general purpose computer, that you could encode operations on numbers as numbers, say "1 means add", "2 means subtract" etc. Then the machine could take, say, three numbers out of the storage, look at the first one, see what it means (add, subtract, etc) and do that to the other two numbers and put it back. This takes the function of the machine out of the physicality of the machine, and puts it in the ephemeral world of software, you have a general purpose machine that can do anything. It's sort of the same trick we pulled with culture.

Now, 70 years later, just from a general purpose number machine, we have a world wide communications network, whole new industries and Facebook.

Did you ever wish you knew what the Next Big Thing was? That you could have gotten in on the ground floor of the Internet, or the industrial revolution, or plastics? Well, I'm going to tell you, right here, right now. Seriously. There are two now-tiny but up and coming technologies that feel to me like they have the same sort of potential to cause world changing upheaval as the general purpose computer. Today, they don't sound like much, but imagining trying to explain to someone in the 40's how a machine that was slightly better at adding numbers would create and destroy whole industries.

The first is software radio. Right now a lot of the most interesting technologies work over radio waves. I'm talking about broadcast radio, ham radio, broadcast television, HDTV, satellite TV, cellphones and pagers, GPS, wi-fi, CB-radio, all the cool stuff. Today, each of these technologies has their own little dedicated piece of hardware, that takes in radio waves, interprets them in a certain way, then maybe broadcasts some more radio waves in return. A cellphone understands the radio frequencies from the cellphone tower, interprets them and sometimes converts them in to sounds for you, then encodes your voice in to radio waves and sends them back. An HDTV receiver hears a different frequency of radio waves, and interprets them as sound and video. A wi-fi router turns network traffic in to radio waves for the wi-fi card in your computer to pick up and convert back, and vice versa. But it's all just radio waves, each device receives radio waves and does some transformation on them turning them in to some other form, sound, video, voice, data, etc.

Imagine a general purpose radio, similar to the general purpose computer. It's just an antenna hooked up to a digital-analog converter, it listens to the entire radio spectrum converts it to data, and sends that to a computer. The computer, in turn, can send data back to the digital-analog converter that turns it back in to radio waves and sends it out over the antenna. Computers aren't quite fast enough to do this over the entire radio spectrum in real-time yet, but they will be soon.

What does the computer do with the radio waves? Basically, anything. The radio waves can be processed via software, to do any transformation possible on the radio waves. This means with the right pieces of software, this device becomes any existing radio device, an am/fm radio, a GPS receiver, a wi-fi node, an HDTV, a regular TV, anything. These devices aren't attached to the computer, they are in the computer, in software, in the same way that there isn't a typesetter or an adding machine attached to the computer, there is typesetting and adding software in the computer. You would no longer have to buy a new radio device, you could just download it.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg, this is just the "slightly better adding machine" phase of the technology, once radio is in software, and anyone can make or modify a radio device just by writing a computer program, application we can't even imagine today will start to become commonplace. Today, a guy is making the software radio hardware in his garage and selling it for $700, that's basically nothing, and with the way economies of scale and manufacturing innovation work with electronics, if these things start being mass-produced, in 10 years, they'll cost 50 cents.

The second earth shattering new technology coming up is desktop fabrication. Here, watch this lecture then come back, I'll wait. Ok. Desktop fabrication is basically software, or culture (in the sense I use above) but for things. Imagine you could download a thing as easily as you can download a song. Seriously, that's what we're talking about here. Sure, right now, today's fabricators can barely make little plastic parts, but this is one of those iterative things, you can use an ok fabricator to make a better fabricator. As we've seen with software, big business is no match for the world-wide army of nerds, either in product innovation, or in the arms race to build and break the locks that keep us from digital content. Imagine the phone or computer or car that the w.w.a.o.n. could collectively build, imagine anyone in the world being able to have it for the cost of a bucket of raw materials. Now that will really upset the apple cart. You see the bad laws and panic lawsuits the RIAA and MPAA are throwing out in their death throes? Imagine the entire manufacturing industry in the same predicament!

Interesting times are coming. Sweet.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

New ancient traditions

So, Holiday Season 2007 is officially over, and we've got about a month and a half until the first Ontario Family Day.

Given that the two previous holidays, Thanksgiving and Christmas cram a cranberry stuffed, tinsel covered, holly-jolly, passive-aggressive, mandatory two-ton football of family down our collective throat, I humbly suggest that it's high time that we reclaim Family Day from Hallmark and "big-family" go back to the origins of this ancient holiday, re-christen it "Chosen Family Day", and stay as far the hell away from our genetic antecedents as possible.

It was pointed out to me recently that we are presented with a unique opportunity this first Family Day, this is a new holiday and we, right here, right now, have the chance to come up with new traditions and observances. This is my suggested list:

  • Group singing of "Everyday People" by Sly and the Family Stone
  • Annual airing of The Family Guy Star Wars episode
  • The traditional ordering of Chinese Takeout and the reading of the fortune cookies (postpended with either " bed" or "...between your legs")
  • Mandatory participation in a game of Eat Poop You Cat
  • Family Day Resolutions, in which New Year's Resolutions are examined, assessed and possibly redacted.
  • Group re-gifting / swap meet.