Friday, April 11, 2008

A Wikipedia for data (statistics, listings, etc)

Bret Taylor suggests that we need a Wikipedia for data. A lot of potential innovation is being held up because it’s so hard to get access to factual data (esp decent quality data). Statistics, listings, and so on. Taylor suggests a Wikipedia-like repository of factual data freely available to everyone. It could really grow if it caught on – the sort of thing that fosters a sharing spirit. You know that if you add/update/correct stuff (and everyone else does likewise), everyone benefits.

The most lifelike robot I've ever seen

This video has been around since mid-March, but I've only just seen it.

It's of the 'Big Dog' robot made by Boston Dynamics. Watch what happens when the guy tries to push it over, or when it slips on icy ground. Squint and you'd think you're watching a real animal.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

A "workspace setup" tool for Windows?

When I’ve finished a session on my laptop, I always just put it to sleep rather than shutting it down. I only shut it down (or restart it) for a software install or update, or because of performance problems -- basically, when I'm forced to. Closing all the programs down, restarting the system, and then setting everything back up again just takes too long.

For those times when I do have to restart it, I’d like a software tool that could automatically set my workspace back up again, by reloading all the programs / documents I normally use. So far, I haven’t found anything that does this. “Application Launcher” programs are more about being able to quickly access a particluar program or document when you want to load it. I’d like something with these features:

  • Once you’ve defined your set-up, and it’s a simple matter to get the program to open all the programs.
  • What you can define in your set-up
    • what to open
      • programs
      • documents
      • directories (in Windows Explorer)
    • What order to open them in (so they appear in a specific order on the taskbar, which helps me to organise things).
    • Ideally, where to place these windows, and how to size them (when my text editor opens, the window is too wide).
    • Support multiple different set-ups.
      I use three virtual desktops, and I have diff sets of apps open in each, so I’d like to have three different set-ups.
    • Ideally, a way to specify settings for windows.
      For example, I’d like it to be able to set up Winamp to appear on all of the virtual desktops. Manually, you do this by right-clicking the winamp item on the taskbar, choosing the ‘Virtual Dimension’ option (for the virtual desktop I use), and then the ‘All Desktops’ option. I’d like to be able to set up the program to do this for me.
Is anything out there like this (and preferably not full of other features)? (I could try writing something like this myself, though with all the other stuff I'm working on, I don't think I'd get round to it anytime soon).

Really, I think such functionality should just be a basic, standard component of windows.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Paul Graham: How to disagree

A short-and-sweet look at how to disagree.

What does it mean to disagree well? Most readers can tell the difference between mere name-calling and a carefully reasoned refutation, but I think it would help to put names on the intermediate stages.

The feasability of a kick-arse public transport system for Brisbane?

Brisbane is a great place, but one thing you hear over and over again is that the public transport sucks. While it could be a lot worse, and I'm glad we've got what we have (CityCats in particular are nice), I’m equally sure it could be a lot better.

But how much better is feasable? Would an ideal, kick-arse public transport system actually be possible? I don’t know the answers, but here's some thoughts on what would be desirable, and some of the questions I have about its feasability.

I'm thinking of a public transport system with extensive coverage and very frequent services. Where all the services started early in the morning and ran till late at night, and 10 minutes was the most you’d ever have to wait.

Where, wherever you were in Brisbane, five minutes was the most you’d have to walk to get to public transport. Where you can go pretty directly to where you want – perhaps by first travelling to one of a few major hubs, and from there straight out to your destination.

But how feasible would that be? One thing you'd need is people with the right vision and drive to carry it through. I take that as a given; what's less clear to me is the economic feasibility.

What changes or alternatives could be used to work towards these goals? What incremental changes could be made? What sorts of improvements would require new infrastructure or different transport means?

For all of these things, what sorts of costs would be involved? And how much of those costs could you expect to offset (at least in the medium to long term) by increased public transport usage? To what extent could you convince people that the extra costs were worth it (such as by painting a compelling picture of what could be done)?

And how long would the different options take to implement?

If the ideal is not possible, how close to it could you get?