Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Flesh Eating Robots

No, that’s not the title of a new Troma Entertainment movie, but it sure sounds like one.  Rather, it’s a breakthrough in energy production a la the Wakowski Brothers and their crazy human battery idea.  Turns out as bacteria digest organic compounds, they produce CO2, water, and you guessed it energy.  With bio fuel cells we can now harness some of this energy as electricity, essentially making a living battery if you will, just like our evil robot overlords will do in the future.  See diagram below:

Actually the science is pretty amazing considering the usefulness of self-sustaining machinery and a renewable energy source.  Right now there are just a few inventions out there making use of bio fuel cells. 

Pest Control

And the Military

However, in industrial nations like ours that has a huge amount of organic waste, I think we may see something similar to Doc Brown’s “Mister Fusion” in Back to the Future II—though obviously not as powerful and more green.

Imagine for a moment if your trash bin was a large bio fuel cell wired into your home’s electrical system. It may not be the most efficient power source right now, but it’s certainly something worth exploring.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Holographic Dreams

This is my entry to the Inspired By Images Of Eve Competition 2. More details and links to all entrants can be found at Starfleet Comms

Holographic Dreams

I looked down from my corporate office into the station hangar below. “Yeah, a little to the right,” the holographer’s voice crackled through the comlink on my desk. The Taranis frigate hovered slightly to the right. The hologram that was simulating a warp field around the ship wavered with the motion, casting flickers of golden light around the hangar. When the holoreel stabilized, he checked his instruments, scratched his tangled hair with his neatly chewed nails, and then cleaned some wax out of his ear.

The man looked like a chubby Tim Burton, well at least like the 2-D images I saw of him in old holoreels. Who would have ever thought that the director’s biggest flop, Planet of the Apes, would have helped Dillan Stanshurn diagnose and solve the time dilation issues in engaging a warp drive? Who knows, maybe this strange little holographer capturing my Taranis might one day be the inspiration for solving Capsuleer lag.

The holographer nodded at his twelve assistants. A vibrato hum filled the space, as the giant holopresses revved up.

I averted my eyes, but the flash of light from the holopresses’ spatial capture pierced my tightly shut lids, and for a moment I was blinded. When I opened my eyes, the hangar swam back into focus.

The holographer looked into a screen and then grabbed a small pad and came running up to my office.

“Well?” I asked.

“I think we got it,” he said handing me the pad.

I pushed the display button on the pad and immediately a miniature Taranis sprang off the pad highlighted by the brilliance of its tiny holographic sun. I rotated the pad in every direction I could studying the ship from every angle. “It looks good,” I said handing the pad back. I turned to my assistant and said, “pull up CDC’s market channel. Let’s get a billboard up in every major stargate in Gallante space. We’ve got 1,000 ships cluttering up our hangars in 12 systems, and I want them moved by the end of the week.”

“Yes, sir,” my assistant scuttled off to place the order for ad space.

I took a sip of my Amarrian coffee. It cost a pretty ISK, but it was certainly better than the drek served in Gallante space. I quickly calculated the cost of production, tax, advertising, and shipping, the bean-counter cyber implants doing their share of the math. “This wouldn’t be a bad haul,” I thought. Especially once I had the goofy holographer ejected into space.

Well . . . at least that’s what I’d like to do for the ISK he was charging.

I stood up from behind my desk and tapped the comlink. “Okay, let’s bring in the Caldari Drake, and for goodness sake can we dim the light on this warp holoreel. It’s like looking into the eyes of my wife when she walks into a jewelry shop.

The room immediately fell silent, and the goofy-looking holographer’s eyes widened. Normally a look like that on a face like his would have made me roar with laughter, but just then, I caught my wife’s reflection in the glass, standing behind me self-consciously caressing what looked to be a brand new megacyte necklace.

“Her beautiful, bright eyes when she sees a necklace that she absolutely deserves, but that always pales in comparison to her beauty,” I quickly corrected, while my implants calculated the markup on the Drakes I’d need to not end up sleeping in my pod tonight. I guess I’ll be selling those at a mission hub.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Multi-Media Instruction

When I was a manager at Wal~Mart, we used a system of training associates called Computer-Based Learning (CBLs). CBLs were basically a series of videos about every level of operation the company needed to function. Cashiers were give a series of about 50-60 CBLs that covered the operation of the registers, proper ways to engage with the customers, procedures for accepting food stamps, etc. Stockers watched videos on safety, customer service, etc. Manager had to go through about three times as many videos much of which I signed a waiver not to talk about outside the company. But the point isn't the content, as much as the way it was presented. The videos used many different combinations of multi-media to present the material. There were images and text combined with a disembodied voice speaking quietly through the headphones, and at times, there were video sequences where real people would talk or present small dramatic examples of the situations the associates were learning about. When I first started, the CBLs were the first part of an associates training, and one had to spend upwards of a week sitting in front of a computer for 8 hours a day, until they were complete, which resulted in an information overload, and the associates were basically starting from scratch when they hit the sales floor. Eventually, the time spent on CBLs was limited to 2 hours a day, and the rest of the time was spent working on the sales floor under the guidance of an experienced associate. So, while they CBLs couldn't replace real-world experience, they did and continue to work as a supplement.

I think the project that I'm working on with ConnectND is similar to Wal~Mart's CBLs in that I'm trying to use multimedia to teach skills necessary for real-world situations (even though theoretically these situations only happen in a virtual environment, they still have real-world implications). However, the big difference is that there is no experienced user helping these people to learn these skills. It is all computer-based learning, and much like the associates at Wal~Mart, I worry about information overload, which is another reason (besides accessibility) I've tried to break the actions up into smaller tasks for the student or faculty member. In terms of a theoritical framework, I've been looking at John Sweller's Cognitive Load Theory (CLT), which basically looks at the way sensory memory transfers to working memory and then into long term memory. The purpose of the tutorials I'm creating is ultimately to create long term memory that can be accessed at later times, but in order to do that effectively (at least in terms of CLT) multiple senses must be engaged simultaneously, the information must be kept to a minimum, and the target audience needs to interact with the material in some fashion.

In future blogs, I'll begin to flesh out these elements and what I'm doing at work to compensate for them.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

101 Standards for Online Communication

JoAnn T. Hackos and Dawn M. Stevens' Standards for Online Communication is really just a list of standards in online communication. There are justifications for these standards, which is what gives the book it's impressive girth, but it's still just a list all the same. While I didn't necessarily disagree with the standards themselves, the rebel in me wanted to throw them all out on principle. For a simple summary of the book check out 101 Standards of Communication by Dawn M. Stevens.

Much like other books on technical communication they suggest a lot of research at the beginning of the project. Get to know your users, set up user profiles, create hierarchies of information, etc. I can see why it's necessary for someone who has become to buried in a project to think rationally to conduct these steps. For instance, a code monkey working at Microsoft would probably have a hard time translating system processes for the technically illiterate; however, I would think an experienced, talented technical writer brought onto a project would be able to anticipate people's reactions without spending too much time researching, mostly because he/she would have done this enough times to know how people think. And to prove this point, let's look at the list Hackos and Stevens' compiled. They start with the research component and then proceed to include the following in the design section of their list:

1. Select readable on-screen fonts
2. Avoid too many font changes
3. Keep line lengths short
4. Distinguish important elements from normal text
5. Avoid excessive emphasis techniques
6. Be consistent screens in the format and design of display
7. Use negative space
8. Avoid horizontal scrolling
9. Make the interface easy to remember
10. Use color sparingly
11. Consider limitations of the hardware and your users

So, the question is how do they know these particular design elements would be distracting to a user unless user reactions could be anticipated without necessarily conducting the research ahead of time? Or is it because they conducted the research that they know this? Personally, I think that the research element is largely exaggerated, and the testing after the online text/site/whatever has been created is far more likely to produce favorable results than spending so much time at the beginning of the project planning and plotting, just because I think that user reactions can be anticipated fairly easily with just a little imaginative empathy for other people on the part of the writer/designer.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Print is Dead; Well It's Terminal Anyway

Hackos and Stevens' Standards for Online Communication makes the claim that users (there's a term that I'm finding is over-used and ill-defined) don't want to read a lot of text online; that they'd rather read long text in paper form, so there should be a print option in electronic documentation (50). In addition, that printed material should be visually pleasing; to keep their attention. On the other hand, employers don't want to pay outrageous printing costs either to make printed documentation or from employees printing that visually pleasing, disposal media on the office printer. And that is why print is terminal, much like experienced employees over 40, it's just not cost-effective to continue using the medium. Not to mention new gen employees are more comfortable with multi-media anyway. But how are we going to replace paper and print? Sony's got the answer: