IDEA: Consumer electronics with open personalization

Okay, I have to do a quick post since I am at work.

I have mentioned before that I love the idea of people customizing their experience with the electronics they use each day. I have seen anime and other creative stories that have interesting UIs in cell phones and the like.

My idea is to have a company that makes consumer electronics such as cell phones. The primary goal is to add software to these devices that allows the user to personalize their experience.

You could say that Android systems allow this, but customization for each person does not seem to be an easy task from the little research I've done. Feel free to chime in in the comments if you know otherwise.

For this company, their software would allow users to personalize their device easily and quickly, perhaps even on the fly. One obvious example is font for various phone functions. The user could design their own font for use throughout the phone. Other possibilities for customization include background, animations, and so on.

This came up after I was thinking how cool it would be to use some of the LED displays I had obtained in watches, and then I thought "Well it would be easier to just do it with a single matrix-type display using software.


IDEA: Binary clock in a ring

Just a free idea off the top of my head. I was thinking it would be neat to have a binary clock on a ring.

After a little experiment with a small sheet of paper, it looks like it would be idea if the "digits" were all on one side (one quarter) of the ring. It would be readable for both right and left with the correct orientation.

The lights would have to be very small, e.g. 1mm in diameter, and with decent vertical spacing, only the hours and minutes could be shown. For the paranoid that wonder whether it's actually ticking, you could add one more led that blinks for each tick.

If anyone out there sees this and makes it a reality, I would be very interested in pictures!

CODING: Observations on coding big projects

So, I am currently doing a big coding project, codenamed "Joe", and I have an observation I wanted to share.

I seem to be going through three steps in my development process:

- General planning
- Coding to deliver functionality
- Unit testing and optimization

Now, part of this is due to my impatient nature. I want the results as soon as possible. In theory, I could do more of the optimization during the planning stage, and more of the unit testing during coding.

However, I think there is also a valid point that not all code requirements can be planned out. Some obstacles or "inspiration" may occur during coding, and then we still need the optimization step at the end.

Incidentally, I liken the optimization step to taking the parts of a machine out, cleaning them and going over them, then putting them back in.


IDEA: Coffee expiration indicator

I was just looking at some coffee pots at work thinking "It would be nice to know how old the coffee is."

And then I went into problem solving mode. Practicality be damned! I went through a few ideas, and came up with what I think is most feasible.

What I envision is a very simple "good/bad" indicator light for the coffee pot. It is based on the temperature of the coffee (or other liquid) in the pot. If the temperature falls below a certain level, the indicator goes from "good" to "bad"

Obviously, you would need to find a good point where good coffee goes bad. You can do this manually or automatically. For example, take the temperature of a coffee pot after sitting for 4 hours and after some general use.

The amount of coffee left would affect the temperature, so you could take temperatures with a full pot, 3/4 full pot, 1/2 full pot, and 1/4 full pot. If the pot is below an acceptable level, you could make it automatically trip the indicator.

You could rig a data logger to note the temperature and liquid level over time to help with the calibration.

I do love brainstorming solutions to a problem. The exercise is good, even if it doesn't produce useful results.

Feel free to add comments and discussion! I welcome feedback of all kinds, as long as it's civil :-)


RANDOM: Quick observations regarding humans

I just wanted to share a couple of random observations around humans and their behavior.

First, I noted that you gain respect for how something is built if you attempt to build it yourself.

For example, I am always thinking about how to artificially reproduce human senses such as sight, and after I try to figure out how to process images instantly over and over and provide a comprehensive picture than can be parsed for information, I am in awe of the processing power of just our sense of vision.

Second, I observed that to truly reproduce instinctual behavior, one needs to employ the fight or flight tendency, along with some memory.

For example, think of an animal you are trying to befriend, such as a stray cat. At first, they immediately run from you, because you are an unknown quantity and much bigger than them (flight). Then after observing you a few times and noting there doesn't seem to be an immediate danger, they investigate to see if there is a latent danger, and if so, they run away (flight again).

There's a lot more to the theory on this second point, but it was an observation I wanted to share.


EDUCATION: Calculating battery life

Just a quick note on battery life.

When putting together a circuit where you need to know how long it will run on a battery, you need to know how many amps the circuit draws. Once you have that, you need to know how many amp-hours a battery is rated for.

For example, if your circuit draws 1 amp of power and you have a battery that is rated for 1 amp-hour, that battery will run the circuit for about one hour.

Wikipedia has a list of batteries and their typical amp-hour ratings at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_battery_sizes

What I found surprising was that a typical 9-volt battery is rated for 565 mA/hr (milliamps, not amps), while a typical alkaline AA battery is rated for 2.7 A/hr.

However, a word of caution: circuits also require VOLTS. Therefore, if your circuit pulls 270 mA/hr but requires 3 volts, you will still need two AA batteries, as each battery is roughly 1.5 volts.

At this point, I am assuming batteries in series have the same A/hr rating, but that's a wild guess at this point

OSCAR: Delayed

Brief note: I was not able to complete the Oscar project by Dorkbot on March 11. I did not set aside enough time to work on the project, especially given the compact timeline and my inexperience with microelectronics. I hope to have more on this soon.


OSCAR: The Announcement

I've decided I will at least take a shot at building a robot for Dorkbot 28 which is being held at Austin Music Hall in Austin on March 11. I will be building a robot codenamed "Oscar" to show off and get feedback on.

I plan on documenting various pieces of the build on this blog, so stay tuned for interesting stuff!