The Near Futurist

Lessons for Silicon Valley from Einstein

strange-albert-einsteinAlbert Einstein was a physicist who changed the world with his ideas. But he’s often known just as much for the poignant and often funny quotes he left us with. Here then are ten (plus one) quotes from the scientific genius as applied to how we in Silicon Valley can learn from and put to good use.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

Sure, knowing a lot of things can certainly get your far in your career. But true genius take that fount of knowledge, and imagines a new way, a different way. Imagination without knowledge is fantasy; knowledge without imagination is uninspired.


“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage — to move in the opposite direction.” and “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

One challenge more established companies have in the valley is to continue innovating once they have an established product and business. It is very easy and tempting to simply add new features to a product, thereby “improving it.” However, it takes a truly innovative hand to improve a product by making it simpler, not more complex. Products like Microsoft Word suffered from this, and Google Web Search often threatens to fall off this precipice. Improve doesn’t equal new features; improve means driving more user value.


“The only real valuable thing is intuition.”

Many technological leaps coming from the valley are those where a person has been working on a problem space for some time, and suddenly has the insight into what could be the next great innovation. Einstein suggest we should trust that, because so much of what comes out of Silicon Valley is too “me too.” Have an intuition to truly make a leap forward? Follow it.


“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

One challenge any founder has is to take their idea and explain it simply to others, specifically to potential investors. Often this comes, not from understanding their product well enough, but not understanding the user value they are driving. Yes, Facebook is a social network that provides photo sharing, comments, keeping up with friends and family, etc. But Mark Zuckerberg had it right: Facebook is about connecting people. Simple, and well understood.


“A person starts to live when he can live outside himself.”

All too often, product managers, executives, and co-founders decide what to build by examining their own pain points. Better and more successful products can be built when they think instead about what others needs, and better yet, by asking and assessing what others need. See the world to solve problems, don’t just see your world.


“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”

Mantras like “fail fast” and “plan to throw one away” are tropes heard over and over in the valley, yet this lesson is hard to see put into practice. Try something new, fail quickly and learn to do it better the second time. Instead of being afraid of failing, look forward to it, knowing what valuable things you will learn from it.


“For an idea that does not at first seem insane, there is no hope.”

Quotes like “Everything that can be invented has been invented” by the commissioner of the US Patent Office in 1899 and “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home” by then-president and founder of DEC Ken Olson in 1977 remind us that the true innovations that catapults technology forward are those that initially sound ludicrous and impossible. But it is only in these ideas that we can really truly make leaps.


“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

As much as I hate this tired business buzzword phrase, it is true that solving problems often mean that we have to “think outside the box.” Often by abandoning the kind of thinking that perhaps created the problem, we can start to see what might solve that problem. Doing the same thing and expecting different results isn’t the definition of insanity; no, there are other words for that, like stubborn, unrealistic, misled, bureaucratic, etc.


“Great spirits have always found violent opposition from mediocrities. The latter cannot understand it when a man does not thoughtlessly submit to hereditary prejudices but honestly and courageously uses his intelligence.

I’ve heard it said: mediocre, even good people, often end up hiring those that are similarly mediocre or worse, as they are threatened by those that might be smarter and more talented as them. The truly great hiring other great people, knowing that everyone brings something different to the table, and by putting together many intelligent people, you can rise about old patterns of thought to take things in a new and innovative way.


"You see, wire telegraph is a kind of a very, very long cat. You pull his tail in New York and his head is meowing in Los Angeles. Do you understand this? And radio operates exactly the same way: you send signals here, they receive them there. The only difference is that there is no cat.”

The work that we do here in Silicon Valley affects people far and wide. Let us all take that responsibility seriously as we continue innovating. Do we need another service that helps wealthy serial entrepreneurs to connect with wealthy investors? Or a service that makes the process of finding your own personal chef marginally easier? Or should we understand that the “head of the cat” is meowing to people all over the world, often living far below our own standard of living, and the “tail pulling” we do here in the valley matters greatly.

Lessons for Silicon Valley from Einstein was originally published on The Near Futurist


Why Social TV Will Get Worse Before It Gets Better

As more people consume TV content in places other than their living rooms on a big screen TV, how they interact with that content and with others gets transformed as well. And when this happens, how that content gets monetized and measured must necessarily adapt. But as the old adage goes, there’s no gain without pain, and this brave new frontier known as “social TV” will likely experience a fair amount of turmoil before it becomes more ubiquitous and firing on all cylinders. As a panelist recently on a social TV session at Digital Hollywood, I engaged in a lively discussion with other very smart people from media and technology. In thinking about this complex topic, there are five areas that merit specific discussion: scaling and measurement, advertisers and revenue, platforms, check-in apps, and the challenge and predictions for 2013 and beyond.

Scaling and Measurement

A year ago, online video meant that the users were viewing them on site or on YouTube. Mobile device video views were but a small blip on most publishers’ radar. Today, we are seeing that number change dramatically. Based on the numbers of a cable TV network I’m familiar with, they are seeing upwards of a third of video views now coming from mobile. The biggest growth is coming from mobile apps for shows (as opposed to network apps or TV Everywhere apps). This is a combination of clips and full episodes, and is sure to climb as mobile devices proliferate.

One underlying question here is how the new mobile viewership is measured, and whether or not this measured activity is leading to tune-in on that living room big screen. If this causation can be proven, then the amount of investment put into this can be dramatically increased.

Advertisers and Revenue

Even if causation can’t be shown, monetizing mobile video is becoming a big business of its own. According to research and analysis by Pyramid Research, mobile video revenue is predicted to top $16 billion by 2014. As video viewing moves from desktop to mobile, how this content and viewing gets monetized will likely shift as well. Today, the vast majority of monetization of videos occurs in the form of a video ad before, during, or after the video content. Pre-rolls still dominate this group, accounting for two-thirds of video ad views, with the mid-roll counting the remaining third, and post-roll barely registering. But will users tolerate their precious mobile bandwidth (which is often paid for separately by customers or limited on a monthly basis) to video ad viewing?

There are other forms of monetization that are being tried by many. Examples include paying for individual pieces of content or paying for a subscription. Services like iTunes allow for per-show or per-content pricing while your monthly cable bill provides you with the subscription fee to watch TV Everywhere services. Consumers have gotten used to paying their monthly bill to get TV content, and likely that will be the driver for pay-for-content models. Having said that, consumers today are somewhat mystified, if not grumpy, about the cost of their monthly cable bill, and will likely be due for a rejiggering to keep up with consumer expectation.


So where will this social, mobile, monetized viewing experience occur? As far as hardware platforms are concerned, there are two primary ones: Apple’s iOS (iPhone, iPad, iPod) and Google’s Android (Samsung, HTC, Nexus, Kindle Fire, etc.). With more devices coming out all the time in all shapes and sizes suggest that we haven’t quite nailed down the ideal viewing hardware. Some prefer, and are used to, the larger tablet size (9” - 11”). However, this can be unwieldy and so competitors have introduced a smaller tablet size (7” - 8”), which trades off size for greater portability and versatility. Then there are the smartphones (4” - 5”), where one gets ultimate portability and flexibility, but the viewing experience can be an eye-squinting one.

As for where conversation, interaction, and engagement occurs around television, there are a number of different options available today, and much like the hardware landscape, it’s clearly a situation where we haven’t quite figure out the magic formula. Viewing can happen on a TV publisher’s site, or on YouTube. More and more, content producers are creating video viewing apps for the mobile clients, and even here, there are a number of options: single show apps, network apps, third-party aggregation apps, just to name a few. With so many options, it’s no wonder viewers are confused, and also understandable that when it comes to discussion and engaging with others around TV content, they turn to the largest social networks: Twitter and Facebook. More activity happens around these two places than perhaps all the custom mobile apps combined. Any TV publisher that takes advantage of Twitter and Facebook will likely see dividends from their effort.

Check in apps

A specific kind of service unique to TV content are the various check-in apps that are now available in the iTunes App Store and the Google Play Store. Checking in to a TV show is much like checking in to a location in the real world: you announce to the world that you are at a certain place, or in this case, watching a certain show. It’s unclear to me what the value of this would be to the end-user. The business model is also not totally proven. Getting large numbers of users to check-in seems like a monumental task, and without those users, it’s not clear how a business like this will monetize at scale.

Challenges and predictions for 2013

As we move into 2013, the world continues to change, and so do the habits of TV viewers. More people are signing up for and using services like Twitter and Facebook, all kinds of mobile devices continue to proliferate, and the way online video get propagated and monetized continues to evolve. There are challenges for sure, for both the TV publisher as well as the viewer, and there may well be some successes next year, maybe even paradigm-shifting ones.


Birthing a new business always brings with it a set of challenges, and social TV is no different:

Fracturing and segmentation: the number of options will continue plague the industry, which makes it more challenging for viewers and content creators. Many distribution channels and mechanisms means that consumers will have a dizzying array of choices when it comes to watching their favorite TV shows, but the same means TV publishers will have to spread their efforts to meet consumers at as many of those channels and mechanisms as they can afford.

Low monetization: so far, calls to “show me the money” in mobile and social have resulted in meager results, especially when compared to the linear revenue TV networks see today. Online video monetization is certainly on the rise, but it will have to get much bigger to be material to most TV networks. With the lower revenue, businesses will be challenged to find the funds to help along this industry, and growth could be stalled in 2013.

Non-professional content creators: YouTube has shown that anyone can be a producer of video content. The number of days of video content uploaded every minute continues to increase at a furious pace, and just by the law of large numbers, some percentage of that content will be successfully distributed and monetized. This could pose a real challenge of premium content producers, as their cost of production far exceeds this new post-amateur content creator’s costs.


However, all is not lost. With these challenges will be those that overcome, and their efforts will result in positive change for the industry:

Experimenting leads to innovation: yes, fracturing can lead to headaches for all involved, but with so many companies trying so many things, we are bound to see some truly needle-moving technologies emerge. Amongst the many seeds planted, we are bound to see some tall-growing beautiful flowers in this field. And this includes software, hardware, user experience, and wireless network infrastructure.

Growing monetization: similarly, the many experiments in monetizing online video will lead to some great lessons learned about what works, what doesn’t, and what remains to be tried. Progress will surely be made as many clamor to unlock the potential revenue in the millions of hours of video content consumed.

TV networks and shows learn to be more “social”: as viewers get more immersed in social technology, it will translate to more conversation and interaction online for TV content. At the same time, those content creators who aim to keep up will find better ways to connect with their viewers, and lower the barrier for what separates the content creator with the content consumer. In the end, the best content relationships are two-way, and a better product gets created for a more satisfied consumer.

2013 will certainly be a year to watch in the ongoing evolution of social TV!

Why Social TV Will Get Worse Before It Gets Better was originally published on The Near Futurist


So I’ve got this idea for a business…

We’ve all had that moment when we come up with the most awesome business idea that will no doubt change the world. Most of these ideas are shrugged off, as we move on to more pressing things in our lives right in front of us. But what if you decide that you do want to take this idea seriously and build a business. The first question that any potential entrepreneur has to be, “Is this idea worth spending time on to grow it into a business?” Put another way, a certain amount of cost is sunk to build a business (time, money, resources), so can we be sure that the corresponding revenue will be there sustain and grow the business?

This is of course the proverbially $64M question (or in Apple’s case, as of Oct 2012, possibly the $640B question!). I’ve spent time thinking about this question over the last several years, as I encountered variations on this during my time at Google, StumbleUpon, and Media Camp (Turner). I recently spoke with an entrepreneur looking to build a business, and worked with him through the things he needed to know for himself to come up with a solid case for why he should (or shouldn’t) start his business. I’ve collected and cleaned up the list that we went through, and have posted it here. Hope you find it helpful, and of course, I would love to hear your feedback! Also, it’s worth noting that this is for a business that would primarily rely on advertising for revenue, and potentially include third-parties to partner with to help drive growth and revenue.

Who is our user or customer?

  • Who is the user or customer for this business?
  • What demographic is the business going after? Age, gender, location.
  • What is the value this user derives? Are they saving time, or spending time?
  • What will keep the user coming back?

Who is our advertiser?

  • Who will pay for this, and why?
  • How much are they willing to pay?
  • Is this additional cost, or cannibalized cost? (i.e. Are they pulling existing budget, or new line item in spend?)
  • What is the advertiser’s value from spending on your product?

Who is our partner?

  • Who will integrate this, and why?
  • What is the revenue model with partners?
  • Is there prestige with the partner’s brand association?
  • Is there value with knowledge/expertise that the partner brings?
  • What is the value proposition for the partner?

Advertiser segments

  • Size
    • Small (individuals, experts, celebrities)
    • Medium (SMB)
    • Large (companies, orgs)
  • Industry vertical
    • Media
    • Finance
    • Travel
    • CPG
    • Automotive
  • Goals
    • Direct response (CPC, CPA)
    • Brand awareness (CPM, rev share?)
  • Budget
    • $100-$1000/month
    • >$1000/month

Publisher segments

  • Size
    • Small (individuals, experts, celebrities)
    • Medium (SMB)
    • Large (companies, orgs)
  • Type
    • Media publishers
    • Companies/orgs?
    • Celebrities
    • Bloggers, experts, tastemakers

How to gather data

  • Surveys
  • AdWords/FB/StumbleUpon ads
  • Focus groups
  • Conferences/networking events

So I’ve got this idea for a business… was originally published on The Near Futurist


Top Five Things to Keep Your Kids Busy on Long Trips

OK, so we have a couple of long trips coming up (driving to Yosemite and flying to Florida) and the number of things we’re bringing to “keep the kids occupied while we travel” is bordering on excessive and somewhat silly. So what do you do when you have a bunch of things that you like a lot after trying lots of other things out? A Top Five list, of course! Without further ado, the top five things to keep your kids busy on long trips:

5. Pillow (requires early morning or late night departure)
Alright, a bit of a cheat, this one!  But this can lead to many hours of kids busy dreaming and snoring, and is a sure-fire way of making sure they’re not in the back trying to rip each others’ heads off.

4. Kids magazines
My boys love their reading material, and nothing is more tantalizing than the latest Sports Illustrated Kids or National Geographic Kids. Too bad magazines are going the way of the dinosaur, which they could read about in Paleontology Monthly Kids…

3. Different snack than usual
It’s amazing how much a small change can matter. My kids love Goldfish crackers. I mean really, what kid doesn’t? But after a while they get old. Now pack the kids into the car, and bust out the Goldfish Grahams (fish-shaped graham crackers) and pow! Suddenly, it’s the most novel thing in the world. Serisously, it’s like shooting Goldfish in a barrel…

2. New book series
I have a nine-year-old who can’t get enough to read. But he’s gone through all the Wimpy Kid series, the Captain Underpants series, etc. But get a few copies of anything by Rick Riordan or even go retro with Goosebumps, and suddenly you have a kid who begs for the drive to last longer just so he can finish this one chapter! (Note: this doesn’t work so well with your three-year-olds.)

1. Nintendo DS / iPad / iPod Touch / iPhone / Android
How did kids survive any kind of drive, long or short, without a Nintendo DS to bury their nose into? Well, I did, and you did, but kids are soft these days. I’m sure there’s an app to improve that…

Top Five Things to Keep Your Kids Busy on Long Trips was originally published on The Near Futurist

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5 Surefire Ways to Turn Off Candidates Applying For a Job

I spent 7 years at Google during a massive hiring boom where I did close to 400 interviews (phone and in-person), and I’m not even a recruiter! Along the way, I picked up a few tips here and there that I try and apply when interviewing candidates for StumbleUpon. So for those of you who are trying to interview, or for those who want to commiserate with bad experiences of your own, I present the five surefire ways to turn off candidates applying for a job:

1. Make sure your job listing including roman numerals and job ID #’s to show just how much of a cog the person will be.

Nothing turns off an enthusiastic and enterprising candidate than seeing their position boiled down to something that fit neatly into a bureaucrat’s forms. For example: Senior Web Developer IV Job #322032-B(2)

2. List one job, but interview the person for a completely different job.

Nothing is more disheartening to an excited candidate who comes in to apply for a position, and have the interviewer go through their questions about a different role entirely. To a candidate applying for a Product Manager position, for example, nothing will kill their enthusiasm more than asking them why they are interested in being a project manager, how long they’ve wanted to be a project manager, etc.

3. Regardless of whether the person is a fit or not, wait weeks to respond, or worse yet, never respond.

Every day you wait in giving back a response to a candidate is a day that they stew and wonder and start to have negative thoughts about the company, which inevitably they share to their friends and colleagues. And what company trying hard to recruit the best and brightest wants that?

4. Act like you are doing them a favor by interviewing them.

A job application is about finding a mutual fit between person and company, not just about the company finding the right person to fill the role. Falling into this trap can cause the interviewer to start to take a superior role in the interaction, leading to a poorer experience for the applicant, but also for the interviewer who won’t get honest and frank answers from the applicant.

5. Low-balling offers or trying to squeeze everything out of a salary or package negotiation.

For the company, the last few dollars left on the table will mean very little. To the candidate, relatively speaking, they mean a great deal. Don’t try to squeeze every last dime out of a salary or package negotiation. It turns the candidate off, and leaves them wondering what else they will have to fight tooth and nail for.

Interviewing candidates can be a tricky affair, but lots of obvious pitfalls can be avoided simply by applying some common sense and long-term thinking to your interview process!

5 Surefire Ways to Turn Off Candidates Applying For a Job was originally published on The Near Futurist

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Fun Facts: U.S. Presidents

And now, for no particular reasons, some fun facts about the U.S. Presidents. Enjoy!

George Washington
Loved horses. Before riding he insisted that the horse be cleaned from head to hoof. He even had his helpers brush the horses teeth.

John Adams
Most of Adam’s teeth had fallen out. He refused to wear dentures, and thus, talked with a lisp.

Thomas Jefferson
Originated the custom of shaking hands with the President of the U.S. Before his term people bowed to the President.

James Madison
Was the first President to regularly wear trousers instead of knee breeches.

James Monroe
Was the first President that was inaugurated outdoors.

John Quincy Adams
In warm weather, customarily went skinny-dipping in the Potomac River before dawn.

Andrew Jackson
Had a pet parrot named Poll. The parrot screamed curse words at his funeral.

Martin Van Buren
Autobiography does not mention his wife once.

William Henry Harrison
Was inaugurated on a bitterly cold day and gave the longest inauguration speech ever. The new president promptly caught a cold that soon developed into pneumonia. Harrison died exactly one month into his presidential term, the shortest in U.S. history.

John Tyler
Fathered 15 children (more than any other president)—8 by his first wife, and 7 by his second wife. Tyler was past his seventieth birthday when his 15th child was born.

James Polk
Sedated only by brandy, survived gall bladder surgery at the age of 17.

Zachary Taylor
Didn’t vote until he was 62 years old and didn’t even vote in his own election because he was a soldier & moved so often he couldn’t establish legal residency until he retired.

Millard Fillmore
Was the first President to have a stepmother.

Franklin Pierce
Had a long battle with alcoholism. Heavy drinking over the years undermined his health.

James Buchanan
Is the only unmarried man ever to be elected president. Buchanan was engaged to be married once; however, his fiancée died suddenly after breaking off the engagement, and he remained a bachelor all his life.

Abraham Lincoln
Often depicted wearing a tall black stovepipe hat, carried letters, bills, and notes in his hat.

Andrew Johnson
Never attended school. His future wife, Eliza McCardle, taught him to write at the age of 17. (Bonus fact about Andrew Johnson: He only wore suits that he custom-tailored himself.)

Ulysses S. Grant
Died of throat cancer. During his life, Grant had smoked about 20 cigars per day.

Rutherford B. Hayes
Had the first telephone installed in the White House. Then he talked to Alexander Graham Bell, who was 13 miles away.

James Garfield
Both ambidextrous and multilingual, could write Greek with one hand while writing Latin with the other.

Chester Arthur
Had quite a wardrobe: 80 pairs of pants.

Grover Cleveland
Underwent a secret operation aboard a yacht to remove his cancerous upper jaw in 1893.

Benjamin Harrison
Was so afraid of electric lights that he used to have White House staff turn them on and off.

William McKinley
Was the first man in his hometown to volunteer when the Civil War broke out. He worked in a regiment commanded by another future president, Rutherford B. Hayes.

Theodore Roosevelt
The teddy bear reference derived from refusalstrongbth her cub while on a hunting trip in Mississippi.

William Taft
Weighed more than 300 pounds and had a special oversized bathtub installed in the White House.

Woodrow Wilson
Is the only U.S. president to this day to receive an earned Ph.D. His degree was in History from Johns Hopkins University.

Warren Harding
Played poker at least twice a week, and once gambled away an entire set of White House china. His advisors were nicknamed the “Poker Cabinet” because they joined the president in his poker.

Calvin Coolidge
Had chronic stomach pain and required 10 to 11 hours of sleep and an afternoon nap every day.

Herbert Hoover
Published more than 16 books, including one called Fishing for Fun-And to Wash Your Soul.

Franklin Roosevelt
Was related, either by blood or by marriage, to 11 former presidents.

Harry S Truman
The letter “S” comprises his full middle name. It represents two of his grandfathers, whose names both had “S” in them.

Dwight Eisenhower
Military leader loved to cook; he developed a recipe for vegetable soup that is 894 words long and includes the stems of nasturtium flowers as one of the ingredients.

John F. Kennedy
Had a sister, Rosemary, who was mentally retarded. She had a lobotomy, at that time not known to be that bad. She is still living and is eighty-five years old.

Lyndon B. Johnson
Was notorious for taking guests on 90-mph rides around his 415-acre LBJ Ranch in Texas in his Lincoln.

Richard Nixon
Received more votes than any other person in American history. His three Congressional terms, two terms as Vice-President, his narrow defeat by JFK in the 1960 presidential, his run for the California Gubenatorial, his first election to the Presidency in 1968 and his landslide deafeat of Geroge McGovern (the largest in Presidential history until that time) makes Nixon the most voted for American politician ever.

Gerald Ford
Once worked as a fashion model. Ford was a model for Cosmopolitan and Look magazines in the 1940’s.

Jimmy Carter
Was the only president who commanded a submarine.

Ronald Reagan
Broke the so-called “20-year curse,” in which every president elected in a year ending in 0 died in office.

George Bush
Was the captain of the baseball team at Yale University.

Bill Clinton
Brought a First Cat—Socks—from Arkansas when they moved into the White House. Socks was the first White House pet with a web site.

George W. Bush
He and his wife Laura got married just three months after meeting each other.

Barack Obama
He and Bill Cosby are the only people to ever get free food from Ben’s Chili Bowl.


Fun Facts: U.S. Presidents was originally published on The Near Futurist

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If I were casting the original “Star Wars” today after having watched too much Joss Whedon stuff…

Luke Skywalker
Sean Maher
Han Solo
Nathan Fillion
Darth Vader
Voiced by Ron Glass
Obi-Wan Kenobi
Joss Whedon
Princess Leia
Felicia Day
Emperor Palpitane
Anthony Head
Adam Baldwin
Lando Calrissian
D.B. Woodside
Voiced by Simon Helberg
Alexis Denisof
Seth Green

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Better Public Toilets

A *really* public toilet!

I’d like to propose some changes to something so fundamental, so part of our every day lives that we often overlook them:  public toilets.  When I say public, I mean any toilet that is used by more than one person regularly (bachelors: there’s no improving your apartment’s toilet until you break out the Fantastik and get a-scrubbing).  These include toilets in public venues, toilets at work, toilets at school, even toilets at home if you plan on more than your immediate family to use them.

OK, a digression: this topic is certainly not the normal fare when one is attempting to look to the future, but hey — as the kid’s book says, “Everyone poops.” Get over it.)

Idea 1: tear away seat covers
Rather than get a seat cover from the dispenser above the toilet, carefully rip it in just the right place, gingerly place on the toilet seat, have it fall in, get another, place it again on the seat, and sit only to find it’s askew and you’re now doing your business at an angle — why not just have tear-away seat covers that the next person can simply remove the first layer, sit, drop the kids off at the pool, then flush and away they go.

Idea 2: child seats
I have three children, and currently going through the joy that is potty training with the last one (sighted: promised land!)  But using a public toilet is always a challenge — a 2-year-old’s body is not designed to use a regular adult toilet.  The solution: fold-down child seats.  They normally stay out of the way for adult use, but come in very handy when rushing your child in for a “hurry, Daddy, hurry!” emergency!

Idea 3: self-raising seats
Baby boomers are getting older, and I’m no spring chicken either.  A nice feature to offer those who have trouble getting into sitting position is a self-raising seat.  These spring-loaded bad boys are elevated and as the toilet user goes to sit, the springs ease the fall down to septic level.  When done with your business, a press of a lever unlocks the seat and raises you back up to semi-standing position.  Just talking about it makes me want to get one, though I’m far from needing it!

Idea 4: foot pedal flushing

OK, we all do it anyway by standing on leg precariously, raising the other leg carefully to hit the flush lever at waist level — why not just put the flush on the floor?  Home versions of this exist, why not create an industrial version that allows the user to simply use their foot to flush?  Germ-free, or at least all the germs on the sole of your shoe.  Just don’t go licking it later.

Do you have any ideas or thoughts about how to improve public toilets?

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There is no “new” – only “stuff we haven’t tried again in a while”

I have lived long enough at this point to have seen a few things come and go. When it comes to technology, the Internet, gadgets, and the way people interact with these things, there is nothing quite so important to its success as a market and a general public that is ready for it. My own professional past is a story of “right technology, wrong time,” but my own recollection of this started even before I began my career; it started for me in college.

When I arrived at the University of Florida my freshman year, I wound up in the honors dormitory. Naturally, when my classmates on the third floor of Weaver Hall were looking for extracurricular activities, they tended towards the geeky and sedentary. My friend Mike and I found ourselves at the computer lab, where we were signing up for accounts on the university computer system. We were lucky enough to be able to choose our usernames, and while he chose a clever homophone of his last name, I drew a blank, and ended up putting down the name of the guy I had just finished hanging a poster of in my dorm room: EINSTEIN. See, I told you it was the honors dorm.

As EINSTEIN on the university VAX/VMS system twenty years ago, we had access to all sorts of utilities and tools that mostly enabled us to communicate and collaborate and sometimes even have fun with each other. Some variant of all those tools are now in the mainstream of technology:

  • A program we used called “SEND” was used to message back and forth with someone on the system, very much like the modern-day chat.
  • While logged in, you could set your process name to something clever, the modern precursor to setting your status in IM or even tweeting.
  • Of course there was email, which surprisingly hasn’t changed much in the last 20 years.
  • We also had access to UNIX machines, which had a utility called “talk” which looks like an early form of collaborative editing a la Google Docs or Wave.
  • A bulletin board system, similar to a common “wall” or “news feed”.
  • The finger command on UNIX machines allowed you to see who a person was, whether they were online, and what their .plan was, if any.  Facebook and LinkedIn are probably the closest modern-day approximations to this concept.
  • Multi-user dungeons or MUDs allowed people to create characters, explore their surroundings, and go on quests.  Sounds to me like World of Warcraft, Second Life, and other MMORPGs.

So then the question I have to ask myself is:  what other things did we do as naive computer science geeks that the online market of today could be ready for?

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IDEA: Using aging packet infrastructure for fun kid outdoor strategy games

I just got a Nexus One, and my iPhone that was such a hot item only a couple of years was duly given to my 7-year-old to play games on.  It’s no longer a mobile phone with 3G capabilities, but still has Wi-Fi and still is a powerful computer with some really great capabilities like accelerometers, GPS, compass, Bluetooth, etc.

We also have an aging packet network infrastructure (you know, the system that used to be used by pagers?) that is low bandwidth but great coverage, and not being used by anyone (read: it’s cheap).

If you put the two together, you can imagine some really fun games kids could play outdoors.  Think geocaching and capture the flag, or laser tag and hide-and-seek.  A simple app and a small Bluetooth-capable pager and you’ve got yourself a fun time!

And imagine: giving your kid your used iPhone means that he or she will spend more time outside!

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