... seeking simple answers to complex problems, and in the process, disrupting the status quo in technology, art and neuroscience.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

What Greta Thunberg Should Be Concerned About

What is the greatest threat to human life?




Uncontrolled fire?

Asteroid impact?

I'm not sure, but it's certainly not Global Warming, Climate Change, or whatever it's being called this week. Without getting into the debate, I've been down that rabbit hole a few times and my conclusion is far less certain than Gret's on this topic. 

But there's a far scarier, and yes, even more, likely threat to her generation, and perhaps even yours. It too involves water, just a lot more of it in a shorter period of time. I'm of course talking about a tsunami, but on a whole different scale than anything we've so far seen in the news.

You only need to do a bit of research to understand that man has been dealing with rising (and falling) sea levels all around the world for thousands of years. And quite successfully. Notwithstanding Venice's current challenge, civilization has adapted to gradual sea-level rise simply by moving farther inland or building seawalls. It's not that big of a deal in the long term. It's when the water rises quickly that nature presents its greatest challenge.

When I first saw the television coverage on Boxing Day in 2004, and the announcer said hundreds had died, I knew those estimates were missing a few zeros. These first news feeds were only from the resort areas. Damage and death would be different at each one, but what about the thousands of miles of coastline not yet filmed? Most of the damage was not even seen for weeks or in some cases months. That's why the final estimate of death was 238,000 when the first reports were only for a few hundred deaths. But what if the Boxing Day disaster was only a taste of what might happen?

Man likes to build near the ocean. And you can't outrun a tsunami. In some cases, even with plenty of warning. Here are the simple facts:

Half of humanity lives below 500 feet elevation.

Most of those people can't move as quickly as a tsunami.

Tsunamis have multiple causes, some far more probable than you might realize:

An Atacama Super-Quake We Never Knew About Sent Humans Into Hiding For 1,000 Years

Canary Island Landslides and Potential Megatsunami

This last example is being debated as there is some evidence that gravel from a prior event has been found distributed all the way across the Flordia peninsula. 

10-05-22 Dinosaur-Killing Asteroid Triggered Monstrous Global Tsunami With Mile-High Waves

Sunday, April 03, 2022

Car and Phone Design Abuse

It was once said that Detroit updated the shape of American cars every couple of years so that others could immediately tell how old of a car you were driving. 

This was in contrast with German car companies which tended to keep an effective design with only minor changes. The VW bug looked the same for decades while the shape of Cadillac tail-fins changed every other year. This was apparently done to make the car look dated and out of fashion thus encouraging customers to purchase a new car more often.

A similar manipulation is currently happening with cell phones. 

While they worked to make the glass face more scratch-resistant, they still break all too often. You see the result in public as most people continue to use these cracked phones.

Even worse, phone designers have decided to wrap the entire phone in this glass material instead of more durable plastic, again, in the name of some fashion. I believe the real reason is to encourage their customers to buy a new phone every couple of years. This new glass-back design has resulted in a phone that's not only as slippery as a bar of wet soap, but also as fragile as, literally, glass. It's like trying to hold on to a live fish.

Years ago, the Japanese company Sharp sold a clam-shell calculator made of durable plastic that had a surface that was soft and easy to grip. Dropping them was rare. 

Unfortunately, I guess we didn't consume enough of them.

And while I'm at it here are a couple of other "enhancements" to cell phones that have turned out to be worse than what they replaced.

Wrap-around screens - why have phone designers become so obsessed with getting rid of borders? Frames for pictures have a reason. They keep the picture from blending into the background, whatever that might be. It's the same for phones, but in a much more physical and controlling way. Those rounded screen edges make it difficult to use keyboards that go all the way to the edge. Those keys are hard to activate. At the same time, other unintended functions for various programs tend to activate when you don't want to. This fashion violates function!

Fingerprint Readers - why all the rush to put fingerprint readers in the screen when they worked so well on the back of the phone where you could find them by feel? Plus they seem to work far better than the screen versions. Then there's the problem of exactly where your finger goes when the screen is off. I'd take the Pixel 2 fingerprint reader over the new Pixel 6 any day.

Both of these "upgrades" are definitely downgrades in my opinion.

Friday, February 25, 2022

The Ideal Phone / Watch / Tablet

Instead of rolling the display out of the phone, roll it around your arm:

A rollable phone

 This is a design I've been thinking about for years - what is the ultimate phone/watch/tablet?

Is it a communicator like on Star Trek? No -  cell phones require both hands to use.

Is it a bigger phone? No - it wouldn't fit in your pocket, plus have the same drawbacks as a phone.

Is it a bigger watch? Perhaps, but how do you make it big enough to be useful as a smartphone or tablet?

The answer to this last question is a simple bit of mechanical magic which I first encountered handing off a "baton" while running relays with my teammates. This modern baton wasn't a stick at all; instead it was a long piece of stressed metal that opens in a straight fashion but will wrap around when struck against your arm. It's really a VERY simple device, but has an application not yet appreciated: 

Reusable Erasable Wearable Silicone Memo Waterproof Wrist Band

I want to be clear; even though this is a link to an Amazon product, this is not an endorsement, nor do I care one way or the other if you buy one or not. The link is not monetized by me. I'm simply using the link because it presents what COULD be a new type of flexible display.

Imagine a leather strap attached to the back of a metal device similar to the one from this link but 5 inches wide and only about 8 inches high, but still mechanically stressed in a similar fashion. Now roll it out flat and apply a  display to its surface. In this form it would present a reasonably sized tablet.

Next, strap it to your wrist like an old-fashioned wrist guard and add electronics from a smartphone. Now flip it down out of the way. When the phone rings, a horizontal strip across the center would light up showing who was calling and maybe even a photo. If you need more display space, simply reach around your wrist to flip up the section above, and possibly even the section below - your wrist becomes a flexible touch-sensitive 5 x 8 inch tablet able to do anything you might do with a normal tablet, cell phone or watch.

You're welcome.