Digital Detritus

Entropic flotsam, digital detritus, cyber cruft, binary bullshit, whatever you call it: It’s astoundingly annoying. It pervades cyberspace. One finds it on a Facebook wall, following oneself on Twitter, and in a MySpace inbox. It even manages to find it’s way past the guard of spam filters and into your inbox. Most sinisterly, it is the result of well meaning friends using a digital good and leaving little reproducing wrappers all over the place.

I define digital detritus as a trail of digital litter created by the consumption of digital goods/apps — akin to a candy wrapper left behind after the candy’s consumption.

Of course, no one ever pauses to think that posting digital detritus to a friends wall might be just like taking the flavorless gum in your mouth and sticking it to your friend’s house wall, using the wrapper to cover it up and provide advertisement for the good you just consumed. If you don’t want a sticky mess on your wall, there is no option to instantly make all walls Teflon. It still introduces a burden of having to clean up after people. It takes one’s private wall and makes it public.

Public spaces tend to get less respect from certain people. People stick gum under tables. People write on walls. People draw great works of graffiti. People have raging debates in some coffee shops. People post events on the announcement boards. Companies advertise on billboards. Most things we are accustomed to these days are brought to you by marketing. Somehow marketing has managed to make it beyond your magazines, television screens, and margins of your computer screens, and onto the walls of your virtual edifice. Public spaces were meant for this, but my wall? Maybe an Andy Warhol print of a Campbell’s soup can, but that’s it.

In Facebook’s case, there are settings to keep anyone from posting to your wall. What if you want friends to be able to still have conversations within your virtual walls? You can’t just turn off apps. That is true in at least two aspects: 1) You really can’t, there’s not setting for it. 2) If you did, friends using a client like HootSuite or TweetDeck couldn’t post to your wall either.

Some games are geared towards growing their user base — this is really the only way for them to continually make more money and grow. I don’t know if “social gaming” should have ever been manipulated into requiring one to get more and more friends playing the game in order to advance game play. That’s not gaming, that’s Amway or some other pyramid scheme. If you do play these “social” games that want you to post random advertisements to your friends wall, I hope you reconsider what games you play in your spare time (and good luck posting to my wall, I’ve blocked all posts).

I want to look forward to a world that has less digital detritus to clean up. I want to see more truly social games that don’t encourage wasted bits, but rather epic game play and great challenges in order to advance. I imagine people might pay for that. I demand better!

Social Media Usage in Corvallis, OR: Part I

I’ve been trying to know more about what happens in Corvallis, OR by watching what a twitter search for “corvallis” turns up (see it here). It turns out to be a mixture of irrelevance and the occasional nugget of information (but that is true of any search). Recently the amount of noise in this search has decreased, making it more interesting. However, it still has nothing near the full spectrum of everything happening in Corvallis. Adding other keywords like OSU or beavers doesn’t help at all. In fact it adds more irrelevance since both of those terms are highly overloaded (OSU – Oregon State, Ohio State, Oklahoma State; beavers – animal name & slang term).

I decided to check out Facebook. I already knew that many people in Corvallis tend to use Facebook and most events in Corvallis are posted on Facebook. I wanted to see how well this online resource was being utilized. Here’s what I found:

Over 500 groups returned in search for Corvallis, not all from Oregon. In fact one result was from Studio City, CA. Evidently there’s a Catholic School named Our Lady of Corvallis There were a few from Corvallis, MT. One remarkably lax group was made for people to publicly post their phone numbers, because the group creator lost his phone in Corvallis. The groups ranged from Corvallis Happy Hour to We Hate Corvallis to the humorous Corvallis Residents that Live in the Beanery to various special interest groups and quite a few religion oriented groups.

There are only 66 pages in the search results, including pages not in Oregon. The page with the most fans is Corvallis Oregon with 3,064 members.

There is no way to determine the number of people in Corvallis using Facebook’s search features, but wait for more info as I develop some number crunching algorithms to approximate this info. I remember that there was a Corvallis, OR network in Facebook that had everyone registered. It disappeared. I think the membership was above 5,000. So, a very hazy and uncertain value for citizens of Corvallis, a town of about 55,000 people, on Facebook is about one in ten.

Well known local business tend to have a group with a membership of about 100 +/- 20. The typical group has about 20 members on average. Notable exceptions are: Corvallis, it’s more than just a town, it’s a state of mind. with 2,082; Solar Panels for CHS with 1,405; Corvallis Nightlife Enthusiasts with 1004; Beaver Joe with 756; In Corvallis Summer 09 with 589;Tempe12 at Oregon State University with 531; Tony’s Smoke Shops with 452 (granted this is shared with other towns); PRIDE Corvallis with 289; Corvallis High School alumni with 271; and the game OSU/Corvallis Fugitive with 257 members.

A brief look at the 66 pages shows a similar distribution for the number of fans per page. Pages seem to have an average mode of 20 +/- 14 members.

Too many businesses are using a personal account for their presence on Facebook.

I look forward to discovering more about these networks, and if they are now searchable that means that per person activity data might be available soon (perhaps a scary thought for some).

Please comment on this post. I’d like to know what you think and what you’d like to know more about.

Find elements, get inspired, and build great things.

Where do you find your inspiration?

Inspiration is sometimes hard to come by. Stress can get in the way. Monotonous cubicles and austere workspaces seem to eradicate inspiration. Sometimes a certain space is inspiring. Other times reading something completely unrelated to work helps rest a weary brain. Sometimes seeing the out-of-the-ordinary helps feed creativity.

If one is trapped in the workplace and needs a quick dose of raw creativity and ideas, where do they go or do? No time for a walk. No chance for a field-trip to a museum. Just stuck. This might be a good use for Elements.

What is Elements?

Elements lets one explore one image or quote at a time. It can be used to Elements has been described as a “visual twitter”. Even though it looks like twitter on the surface, it is nothing like it. Twitter lets one choose to read everything or search for specific things. It can be used as a research tool or as an asynchronous messaging service. It is a swiss army knife of communication. It really is what one makes it. In Elements, what is visible changes as one uses it. Twitter remains constant in what one can see. This article will explain the concepts behind it, but exploring Elements is really the best way to figure out what it is. You can find your elements at elements.lunarr.com.

The formula for elements is roughly:

Elements = Images and Quotes + Special Japanese Magic + Twitter Like Interface

When I met with Hideshi Hamaguchi, COO of Lunarr.com, he told me more about the origins of Elements and its main difference from twitter. He drew a few diagrams in his notebook to help clarify the concepts and never thought to ask for those pages. However, I took the liberty to remake the diagrams from memory and include them here.

The systems have very different conceptual designs. In twitter anyone can send 140 Unicode characters to everyone on the system. Anyone can see everything (except private time lines) if they chose to. In Elements, what one sees is principally determined by relationships (who you follow and who follows you) and what you have liked in the past. Visually, what happens can be represented by these two diagrams:

Twitter:
twitter
Elements:
elements

In twitter, one’s actions cannot influence how the system interacts with you: what messages you can see or the order you see them is constant. This is represented by the circle and the arrow directions not crossing over. In Elements, what one does (following people, having followers, liking an item, or casting an item) influences how the system interacts with them — what pictures end up in their queue and what order they appear. This is represented by the figure eight and the arrows crossing over.

Each person has a queue of items they will be shown which is influenced by their relationships. Actions of people who one follows will effect what one sees more than the actions of their followers.

The concept behind Elements was inspired by the attitude of the Japanese tea ceremony, the concept of ichi-go, ichi-e (“one-time, one-meeting” commonly: “one chance in a lifetime”). There is only one time to inspire and one chance present a gift. Each of these gifts can be elements inspiring great things.

How Elements Came Into Being

Elements was inspired by the lack of methodologies to manage, harness, and inspire creativity. Hideshi says there are three distinct stages to the creation of an information/knowledge worker’s (read: creative’s) product: Collecting Disparate Elements of Inspiration/Information, Organizing and Pruning those Elements, and Creating the Final Deliverable. Here’s how it looks visually:
threestages
Elements fits into the picture on the far left at the beginning of conceptualization. One could say it is a product to fill the need for tools to begin managing creativity.

Typically, companies focus on bringing things to market more than they focus on creating ideas. In fact, the relative amounts of resources put into different parts of the creative cycle looks like this:
resources
On the other side, when it comes to possibilities and creative license — or technically, degrees of freedom — the curve is just the opposite:
freedom
The upper diagram shows why companies seem to come up with unoriginal and non-paradigm shifting ideas. It’s not that they can’t afford the potential risk involved, it’s the undesirability to allocate resources for a creative process that they don’t know how to manage. Elements is the first step in managing the inspirational aspect. It may eventually become feasible for companies to manage the creative process in a resourceful manner.

Nature Inspired Technology

My post on the nanotube radio reminded me of a thought I had a few days before I saw that radio. That thought was: RFID, especially the passive variety, is a cool step forward to creating highly energy efficient technology. In that case the RFID tags are small, compact, and are powered by their antenna. They pick up the signal from the reader and that signal creates a current across the antenna and the circuits ground. This can be used to both power an IC and as the communications channel. This was awesome news to me when I first heard it because that means that the only power footprint for the system is the main transceiver that reads the RFID tags. This can also be applied to other electronic devices that don’t need to communicate via radio waves. Anything that doesn’t need much power can be powered by the radio waves in the air. All that is needed is an appropriate antenna, a rectifier, and a smoothing capacitor. This would create a fairly small amount of current that might be able to power some very energy efficient electronics.

If we look at biology, we can see that biological systems are very sensitive and receptive to electromagnetic fields that can take some real work, on our part, to detect. The brain actually harnesses its own EEG to coordinate the firing of fairly distant brain regions, as researchers at MIT have shown. It would be awesome if we could build technology that operated using EMF levels similar to those found in biological systems, mostly because they would use very little energy. The possible side-effect is that we could discover that low energy devices open new possibilities for design, like opening up the possibility of creating designs that synchronize different parts like the brain does.

There will be definite design challenges that will be inherent in very low energy devices because of the sensitivity. The major benefit of electronics as we now know it is the robustness and well defined behavior they exhibit. This could all vanish in low energy devices. The electronics might get down to the point where we might be working with single electrons that exhibit quantum behavior. Of course, nature got around this by using an incredible synthesis of electro-mechano-chemistry. Perhaps we might do the same thing. Except we would need to figure out how to make it work faster than chemistry normally works. I suppose we could go the massively parallel route to achieve the likeness of lots of speed with relatively slow parts.

Besides all of this, wouldn’t it be great if instead of charging your electronic devices, you had to feed them?

“Excuse me while I go feed my computer.”

“Okay, I’m back”

In other news (okay, this is from my birthday two years ago), researchers at MIT have developed a way to power devices with non-radiating waves. Go here to find out more. It is really cool because this would not create any interference with any device unless it happens to have a specific resonance that tunes in the wireless energy source. Pretty cool.

Breakfast and Nanotubes

Breakfast
Ah! There’s nothing quite like cooking stir fry for breakfast at 3:20 am. Then eating it. Then biking to get to work by 5:00 am. This happens to be a semi-delectable sweet and sour variety concocted in semi-awake-ness. As I scarf it down remember this article that my friend emailed to me. It is from MIT Technology Review

Nanotube Radio
It is an all-in-one nanotube radio. And the original paper on it can be found here. How it works is really incredible. The nanotube acts like a tuning fork and a piano string at the same time. It is like a tuning fork because it has an intrinsic frequency the it vibrates at. It is like a piano string because the amount of voltage applied to it acts to tune it like tightening a piano or guitar string. Increase the voltage and you increase the frequency that it vibrates at. Now the strange yet cool thing about this is that the tube does not act like an antenna. It is the electrons that collect at the free end of the tube that act as the antenna. They will start to induce motion in the tube in response to any electromagnetic fields. The tube naturally filters out any other frequencies since it naturally damps any motion induced by the electrons at any frequency besides what it is tuned to. There is a cathode a little over a micron away from the end of the 500 nm tube which picks up the electrons ejected during the tube’s movement. This is actually the demodulated signal — meaning that it is an audio signal and not a radio signal.

Aside from the technology involved in making this radio, it is the simplest radio ever. Right now it is really sensitive to temperatures, and the reception could be improved by operating it at lower temperatures or operating several tubes together. I also think that there are other distortions to the signal besides just the temperature interference. I think that other radio signals that operate at frequencies that are partials of the main resonant frequency of the tube and tuning would still induce enough motion to distort the signal. So it has it’s imperfections, but it will get better — just like my cooking gets better when I’m fully awake.