Tag: technology

Technology is Amazing

high angle photo of vehicles parked near building
Photo by Stephan Müller on Pexels.com

Now and then, when I find myself taking technology for granted, I try to step back for a few minutes and imagine what my grandfather would have thought about the technology advance over the last 17 years since he died. My grandfather always seemed surprised and delighted by advances in technology. He would marvel at what seemed minor things to me: coffee heated in microwave ovens, Walkman cassette players, and of course, computers. He was an auto mechanic and the technology he was most familiar with was the internal combustion engine and its associated parts, but I remember him wistfully talking about how cars were being controlled by computer more and more–and this was twenty years ago. What he would think of today’s cars, which he called automobiles?

Improvements in automobiles seem steady and constant. Every new year introduces new models that improves upon previous ones. A new car might have one or two features that your old car didn’t have. Your next new car will have one or two more new features. Since cars last longer than they used to, these incremental improvements can sometimes seem like great leaps between two or three successive cars.

I’m not sure my grandfather ever really “got” the Internet. He sent occasional emails through AOL, but I think the concept of a globally connected peer-to-peer network of computers was largely beyond him. It just wasn’t in his experience. Cars were in his wheelhouse. He could see, if not entirely understand, the technological advances cars were making from one year to the next: fuel-injected engines, air conditioning, improvements in the manufacture of motors that required less maintenance over longer periods of time.

Many of the improvements I see cars these days are in areas of comfort and safety, and I suspect it is these improvements that would delight my grandfather more than anything else. I’m not sure that he ever drove in a GPS-equipped car, but I think he would have been tickled by the car displaying a realtime map of his location, and telling him when to make a turn. (“Backseat driver,” he would have said.) Still, imagining him driving with me in our own GPS-equipped car, I can hear him saying “Technology is amazing! It’s incredible that a bunch of satellites in space are beaming precisely timed signals to the car. I couldn’t have dreamed of such a thing!”

When I think about it, many, of not most, of the tedious parts of driving can be handled automatically these days. GPS plots your course, accounts for traffic, and can even provide data to self-driving cars to get them where they need to go. Cruise control has been improved so that the car will automatically keep distance with the car in front of you. Safety systems tell you when someone is in your blind spot, or when your car begins to drift from a lane. If someone suddenly slows down in front of you, your car will automatically slow down to avoid a collision. Cars can even park themselves.

If there was one feature that would blow my grandfather’s mind if he could see it, it would be the car camera view. In our car, when putting the car into drive or reverse and staying below 10 MPH, the four cameras on the car work in concert to generated a bird’s eye view of the car in its current location. You can see if you are inside the lines of your parking spot. You can see if anyone is passing behind you, or one to one side. It’s an impressive bit of mathematical interpolation that would delight my grandfather. I sometimes imagine him sitting in the passenger seat when I put the car into reverse. Up pops a live video of the car from directly overhead.

The "satellite" view in our current car.
The “satellite” view in our current car.

“Where is that picture coming from?” my grandfather would ask, his mouth forming an O like surprised child.

I’d point up to the sky. “Satellite overhead,” I’d say. I’d wait for his stunned reaction, and then I’d confess the truth. I’d point out the cameras, and explain how the computer in the car can take those images and translate them into the overhead view.

He’d recite his mantra: “Technology is amazing!” Grinning, he’d add, “We never had anything like this.”

Well, it’s fairly common these days, and I tend to take it for granted. Every now and then, I try to remind myself just how amazing technology is by trying to imagine what my grandfather would make of it.

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A Digital Commonplace Book Protocol for Internet Annotations

Any time I find myself thinking how great the Internet is, my thoughts drift to the one area in which I find it sorely lacking: a native annotation capability. The notion of hypertext and the linking of documents in a digital network is genius. It seems to me that if you can conceive of this, you have to understand that it works well only when you are talking about large volumes of “pages” or documents. And if you imagine large volumes of documents and the rabbit hole the links lead you down, you’ve got to wonder how we missed the native ability to annotate these documents as we go.

There are third-party tools that help with this. These tools can clip articles and store the clipped versions locally. Some of them provide tools for marking up the articles–highlighting, or adding your own annotations. But these often feel flimsy to me. It seems to me that what we need, is foundational tool for annotating what we read on the Internet. And while this does’t seem to be an operating system level function, it certainly seems to be something that a well-designed web browser should be able to do as part of its basic functionality.

Requirement for a Digital Commonplace Book protocol

The Internet is full of standards and protocols, and if I were designing web browsers, I’d see if I could come up with a standard for what I’d call a “digital commonplace book” protocol–DCB for short, since above all, a protocol must have an abbreviation. My DCB protocol would differ in some ways from tools like Pocket or Evernote. My list of requirements for a DCB would look as follows:

  • HTML protocols would be extended to support DCB. There is some additional metadata that would be needed to support annotations, like versioning, and being able to locate specific pieces of text or objects on the page.
  • Highlights and annotations could be stored locally or in a service (like Evernote or Pocket)
  • In addition to the highlights and annotation data being stored, information about the specific page and page version would need to be stored as well.
  • When a browser renders a page, it would look at the digital commonplace book to see if that page had entries, and apply CSS to the page to show the highlights and annotations when viewing the page.
  • If the page had changed since the annotations were captured, the meta-data collected as part of the annotation could provide a reference to the page version it was captured on, and the browser would have a kind of timeline slider for the page that allows you to scroll back in time to see the pages as it was at the time you captured your annotations.
  • On the server side, it might be useful to log how many times (and what parts) of a page have been annotated. These would all be anonymous logs. The site owner would not know who annotated the pages, just that (a) there was an annotation, and it which part was annotated. This would be optional at the site, or even page level.
  • The annotations features would be built into the browser, and the storage format would be standardized, and compatible with any browser.
  • Browsers would provide mechanisms for tagging, updating, viewing, searching, and exporting annotations.
  • The format of the annotations would be an open format readily accessible to other applications and protocols. JSON might be a good start.

The bottom line for me is that if I highlighted some text on a page in a browser, and made some notes about it, and then came back to that page a few days later, the browser would show my highlights and annotations inline as I viewed the page.

Making Kindle annotations compatible with the DCB protocol

The other major source of annotations I make are in the books, magazines and newspapers I read. And while Kindle provides a useful mechanism for highlights an annotating passages, it’s a lot easier to the get the data in than to get the data out.

I would make Kindle apps and devices compatible with the DCB protocol. I imagine this wouldn’t be too difficult, considering that the annotation functionality is already there in the devices and apps, and would just require some tweaking to make it compatible with such a protocol. The part I would spend a lot of time on is making sure it is as easy to get my annotations out as it is to get them in.


I was thinking about this because I am getting ready to write my next post on how I’m using Obsidian to catalog my reading and reading-related notes. I read in all kinds of mediums. I read web pages, articles in apps, on the Kindle, via Audible audiobooks, and of course on good old-fashioned paper.

For me, all books are interactive. I converse with the authors in the margins. I highlight passages and come back later and make notes on why I highlighted them. Long gone are the days when I revered the pristine look of the printed page, over the page that I have made my own. I encourage my kids to do the same.

In thinking about how I’ve organized my reading notes in Obsidian, it occurred to me my methods could be greatly improved if there was a standardized protocol for a digital commonplace book. Alas, one doesn’t exist at this point.

But at least you now have the context for why I organize my reading notes the way I do–but I’m getting ahead of myself here. That will have to wait for another post.

First thoughts on the iPad

I didn’t watch Steve Job’s keynote address yesterday, but like everyone else in the universe, I did catch some news of Apple’s new iPad. Despite being a big fan of Apple products, I wasn’t overly impressed. Here are some of my thoughts:

  • Useful for note-taking, so I imagine it will be useful in classrooms (including colleges) and conferences.  Maybe for salespeople, too.
  • Overkill as an ereader.  In my opinion, an ereader should be focused on one things only: imitating a book..
  • Missing a front-facing camera.  No video-conference, I guess.
  • Bevel seems bigger than it needs to be.

This is the first generations and I’m sure there will be improvements.  But for now, I’m happy with my Kindle and my iPhone.

eReader, take 2

I checked out Journey to the Center of the Earth from the library and haven’t gotten around to it yet. The other day, I renewed it.  This morning, after talking to John, it occurred to me that maybe this is anopportunity for me to give eReader on my iPhone another shot.  Turns out the book was available from Project Gutenberg for free, so I downloaded it to my phone.  We are heading up to NJ this weekend and that means roughly 8 hours in the car over the course of the weekend.  I’ll see how it goes…

(Oh, and if you are a fan of eBooks and iPhones and didn’t already know, Kindle has now come out with free Kindle reader app for the iPhone.)

Originally published at From the Desk of Jamie Todd Rubin. You can comment here or there.

Short break (4 hours into my day)

I took at short break at 11 am after wrapping up the Day 2 slide deck (209 slides!) finally! 

I headed over to the Apple store because after nearly 2 years, I’ve been having some problems with my iPhone (which I never bought Apple Care for).  Turns out the problems were caused by a small crack in glass on the front of the phone and moisture getting in.  (The touch screen, for instance, wasn’t detecting touches throughout the middle.)  As the cost of repairs was pretty high, I opted to get a new phone.  So I now have an iPhone 3G (16 GB), identical to Kelly’s phone except that mine is black and hers is white.  I got a screen glare protector for it as well, and had the Apple rep put it on the phone for me.  And of course, this time, I also bought Apple Care.  The phone is working and I’ve got it synced with my Google mail, contacts and calendars, but I’ll have to resync it when i get home to get everything else on it.

Okay, short break over.  Back to work on the Day 3 slide deck.

Consolidation

I am in the process of consolidating my online presence.  I’ll have more to say about what this entails once it’s all finished.  The key thing for now is that my main email address is going to change.  I’ll be notifying folks of the change over the next few days.  If you haven’t heard from yet and expect to hear from me, be patient.  My old email address will still work for a while, and the mail will be forwarded to the new address.  If you don’t have the new address yet, you can still send to the old one.

More on this once the bulk of the process has been completed. 

Warm Sunday

It was near 70 degrees here in the Metro DC area today–unusual for late December, to say the least.  It was almost like we were back in Florida.  I slept in until about 8:30 or so.  But we still managed to get an early start on our day.  First, we headed over to the Apple store to get Kelly her Christmas present, a new MacBook!  (Her old PowerBook was on its dying breath.)  We were in-and-out in 10 minutes.  I also picked up a 1 TB external hard disk for our desktop computer (iMac) so that we can consolidate out entire iTunes media library and have it centralized in one place.

Next, we headed to the grocery store to buy food, very little of which we had in the house.  We stocked up and headed home.  I ran down to the concierge and picked up the two packages that were waiting for me.  One package was a gift from Mom and Dad:  Mario Cart for the Wii, with the steering wheel attachment included.  We can’t wait to play.

The other package was my copy of mabfan ‘s first book, I Remember the Future, which he signed for me.  I was very excited to get it.  When I finish The Hard SF Renaissance, it will be the next book that I read, making it book #401 or 402 on my list.  (Yes, I’ve read just about all of the stories already, but they are that good.  I’ll have more to say on the subject when I am done re-reading them.)  Humble though I am, I can’t help but mention the fact that my name appears in thebook twice.  I mention this only as a point of fact:  it is the first time someone has ever mentioned me in the "Afterward" of a story, and it was Michael that did me the honor.  The book looks great, incidentally, and as I have said before, the stories are a perfect introduction to what science fiction is all about (for those who don’t know); and they are great examples of solid science fiction for those who do read in the genre.  Buy the book!

There were some additional chores to do:  cleaning out the cat litter; taking out a bunch of trash and recycling; vacuum the house (Kelly did upstairs, I did the downstairs).

Spoke to Mom and then e took a long walk in the afternoon.  We didn’t need jackets; it was warm and windy.

I spent the rest of the day setting up our consolidated media library.  It was a little complicated, but mostly time consuming, copying data over the wireless network.  But it’s working the way I want it to work now, so all is good.

Domain renewal

When I woke up this morning, I had an email telling me that my domain (jamierubin.net) was set to expire in 90 days.  Many, three years goes by fast!  I went ahead and renewed the domain name for 4 more years.  The expiration date is now March of 2013, which seems very far off.  I wonder how fast it will seem to go by? 

Kelly made pancakes for breakfast this morning.  They really hit the spot!

Thursday

Still no NEW SCIENTIST.

Rainy day today.  As planned, Karl, Todd and I headed to the house during lunch.  They helped me bring the grill up from the landing and into the living room (where I can more easily maneuver it toward the kitchen) and then we spent an hour or so playing Wii.  It was a lot of fun.  They wanted to see what Wii Fit was like, so we played some of that, too.

I’m trying to reduce the amount of paper I use and so today, I downloaded a demo copy of DevonThink to see if it will work better for me than paper in collecting notes from reading and other things.  It is supposed to be very good at collecting and organizing this type of information.  How well it actually works depends on how well you can hierarchically organize your information, and last night I got started playing around with it a bit.  If it turns out to be a useful way of capturing and finding information, I’ll end up buying a license for it.  It only works on Macs, but I could end up using it at work also, since I have a Mac there, too (on which I run Parallels).

Last night was TV night.  We lazed around when wegot home.  I watched new episodes of Smallville, The Office, and Life on Mars.

Today’s reading: Franklin Delano Roosevelt (through page 88.