IDEA: Why don't computers do what we want?

Today, I was working on something for my job, and encountered a quirk with an application I was using, where the application did something I didn't want it to do. As I grumbled in my mind about the small frustration, something occurred to me.

Are we working toward designing applications so that they either know exactly what we're trying to do, are smart enough to figure out what we're trying to do, and will accept help to figure out what we're trying to do?

I will try to remember to add more to this post later, but feel free to comment in the meantime.


IDEA: Making adventure games less linear

First, a caveat: I don't possess a lot of knowledge about video games with non-linear play, so there may be plenty of video games using this idea. However, I wanted to post it, in case it had not been conceived or used yet.

The issue in some adventure games is that the plot that revolves around the game action is often linear, i.e. the plot events never or rarely change when you play the game more than once. One prime example is the Metal Gear Solid series of video games. While minor events may be changed depending on circumstances, the major plot events never change, thus making the game pretty repetitive on replay. Not to spoil anything, but such plot points include: the revelation of a new type of weapon; the revelation of a secret identity; and so on.

The idea I came up with is somewhat similar to real-life situations: the major players have "cards" of information that they choose to play at the most damaging, profitable, or dramatic times. Said times can be analogous to a list of prerequisites that must be met before said card is played.

I suppose one could argue that games like the Metal Gear Solid games already follow this formula, but that's a fallacy. The player has no choice but to complete tasks given by the game in order to progress, and in fulfilling those tasks, you could say that prerequisites for playing these "cards" are fulfilled.

What would be interesting is if a game is constructed so that a player can explore just about everything in the game without triggering major plot events, or triggering the events in a different order, or any other combination.

A further extension of this idea would be to have different endings based on how many "cards" were played, in what order were they played, and what is the combined effect.

At this point, I wonder how complex the idea is getting in terms of implementation, but I'll set that aside for future discussion.


BUSINESS: The balance between brainstorming and feasibility

One thing I've encountered recently with my ideas regarding technology is a simple question.

"Is there a need for this?"

Satisfying my own needs is one thing. Satisfying the needs of more people than me is something else. It's easy enough to develop things to satisfy my own needs and desires, but I'm a person that tends to feel "rewarded" when I create something that other people can use as well.

I imagine this is an important business precept as well; a concept that may have brought down more than one company. Smart businesspeople know that if there is no need, or "demand", then the product, or "supply" will never be sold at the desired rate.

Hence, market research is born.

I also think that it's important to have "focused freedom" in coming up with product ideas. A good brainstorming session is one that is as free of bounds and preconceptions as possible. However, simply going off on tangents will get you nowhere. Some focus on the subject at hand is needed to keep things working on the right track. It may even save some time, where a completely free session would wander down roads that simply waste time.


IDEA: More do-it-yourself stuff!

Maybe I'm unaware of some large body of evidence that people don't enjoy do-it-yourself kits, but I would think that the do-it-yourself industry would be great for increasing the general public's knowledge and know-how regarding products.

Oh wait, you want to charge for service and parts. Proprietary. Right.

For example, I think it would be cool to be able to create my own wristwatch. This is a step down from my "create your own PDA" idea, and could possibly be more feasible, in that most parts wouldn't be that expensive. The may be some overhead in making small parts, but that's a wild guess.


BUSINESS: About business, sales, and production

Just an observation after working at two different companies. It's important for everyone to know what the potential and limitations are for products.

One example of a good business practice is for sales to interact with the developers before a sales presentation. The idea is to gauge how much work it each for each component they want to sell. At this meeting, the developers can say how long it will take to complete something, and/or if it is feasible for the time period and price point proposed. This will avoid problems like over-selling and under-delivering, project timelines being delayed, and general frustration headaches.

It's fine to segregate responsibility to specific people so that they can focus on that area, but if one group needs to speak for another, e.g. sales speaking for developers, the two groups must discuss and agree on what is presented.

Also, make sure to TEST new ideas and processes before implementation. Often when implementing something for the first time in a new environment, adjustments are required. Throwing a new idea or process into an environment without prior testing slows down everything, often causing damage.


IDEA: A site to help people find stuff

First, the short story: I didn't see any really prominent web sites where people could ask other people on where to find stuff that Google couldn't help them find. In a fit of zealousness, I staked out a domain, and set up a bare-bones bulletin board. You can find it here, although there's no one there as of this post: http://www.helpmefindthis.info (new window)

The premise: I have a stress ball on my desk which I obtained from my parents. It's actually only the "squishy" part of the item; I think it was attached to a base at one point, but was since detached. Since I have pretty strong hands (as a former tuba player) and the ball itself resists force well, I asked if I could borrow it. And so it goes.

Being the geek that I am, and my coworkers being the geeks they are, we all wondered what was inside. After leaving it on my desk for awhile, the texture of the cool inside matter seems to be some form of gel, which retains its shape, or at least succumbs to its own weight, when left alone.

My next thought was this: it would be great to have a second one of these to cut open, so that we could see what was inside without damaging the stress ball I already have. But where would I find it? Something like this would be difficult to find either through canvassing of the local stores or searching the web.

So, I wondered if there was some kind of online community where I could find it. There wasn't anything that stuck out when I searched Google. So, I decided to make my own. After finding and purchasing a humorously accurate domain like "helpmefindthis.info", I downloaded the latest version of phpBB, a bulletin board utilizing PHP and MySQL, and set it up. It wasn't very difficult, although there was some inflexibility that I won't take the time to overcome right now.

So, after all that, now what? How do I get people to come to the site and start helping each other find things? It would probably require effort on my part, which would be something for me to shoot for, a goal, as it were.

Well, we shall see what comes.

If anyone else out there knows of a place similar to what I have detailed, let me know!

IDEA: Acting script performance program

This is an idea I had several years back, while playing Final Fantasy III (American release, I think it was actually Final Fantasy VI). There were quite a few "cinematic" scenes, where the characters talked to each other while moving around the screen and performing certain pre-programmed actions.

So, from this, I thought it might be possible to create an application that accepted a script, then enacted it on the screen.

Unfortunately, they'd have to be told things like "move forward a step, move in front of X, exit stage left, throw up your hands in disgust," and so on, which means some kind of programming or scripting has to go on for this.

Oddly enough, in the present day, this is both somewhat easy... and possibly unnecessary. But, just in case someone else can run with this and do something with it, I wanted to mention it. That's what this blog is for!

IDEA: Affordable, customizable PDAs for all

So, even though I have no official training in business procedures, I'm thinking that the personal electronics industry doesn't have enough personalization available for consumers. When you consider the customer base for personal electronics, there are a lot of brainy people in there, and many of them are capable of at least some tech knowhow.

So, the idea is to create a line of personal electronics that allows people to either:

a.) buy the personal electronics and use the default settings and construction; or
b.) start with a base product, then personalize to their heart's content

And when I speak of personalization, I don't just mean hardware, but software as well.

Let's start with the hardware. In my opinion, parts for these personal electronics should either be:

a.) really cheap and easy to produce; or
b.) really long lasting, with the cost passed on to the consumer

If we can't do long lasting, cheap and easy to produce is the way to go.

Fore example, if the screen for a pda can't last longer than a couple of years, then make damn sure it can be replaced easily by the consumer, even at the cost of further lifetime of the screen. If the screen only lasts 6 months, but is very affordable and easy to procure and replace, then it's not such a pain for consumers, now is it?

As far as software goes, some tech consumers are obviously brainy enough to handle whatever programming language you use for the personal electronics. Hell, give 'em free reign over the product, if they want. Think of the possibilities if Nintendo allowed its touch-screen DS portable game unit to accept user programs. Think of the useful applications!

There are three main types of consumer out there: the simple consumer, who just wants to use the product; the tinkerer, who likes to play around with things, but not get too serious; and the "power user" who loves to dig deep and find out what makes things tick, and possibly use it for other purposes.

Right now, the simple consumers rule the market; companies in the tech sector are generally producing products that can't be tinkered with very easily. Especially in the tech sector, there are tons of people dying to dig in and get their electronics to really take off, and the companies seem to be too preoccupied with proprietary technology and bottom lines to realize the potential. This is not the way to advance technology! There aren't enough enterprising companies to cover the wide human spectrum.

The internet is a prime example of this. Look at the HUGE variety of web sites out there. Even in social web communities like MySpace, the variety is unbelievable. Now, think of what would happen if you turned these personal electronics over to the brainy masses.

I've written all this, and it occurs to me that this stuff might be available already, and I simply haven't gone looking for it yet, which is true enough. But you would think I would see something at the local Fry's or on the web by now.

BUSINESS: Obligatory first blog

The main idea of this blog is to post ideas that I come up with that I want everyone to read about and possibly implement. In this case, royalties are not important to me; getting these ideas into physical reality is the priority.

The only thing I ask is that people not demand that I remove stuff from my blog once they put its ideas into practice. If you had prior design on an idea and can prove it, then I will happily remove it upon request.

Let's be civil folks, I just want life to be better. Screw intellectual property.