Nasa Seven Seconds of Terror


I’m exhausted today, it’s been a really long intense week. So while I relax I’m thinking in a different direction: GPS.

I’ve been reading an awesome book called Pinpoint by Greg Milner and it has had me thinking in so many directions. It’s hook says its about How GPS is changing Technology, Culture and our minds. I suspect most reviewers touch on it pretty lightly because some of it is pretty geeky, although it is very readable. What is really scary is how much we rely on GPS for everything we do, which explains why there are so many projects to come up with land-based solutions for PNT.

Because it is Saturday and I am trying very hard to not think about work, I have gone off on a different tangent, which is space exploration. On Earth we now have the capability of measuring the centre of our potato shaped planet to about a centimeter, which makes navigation pretty accurate in 3 dimensions, although this doesn’t mean driverless cars can navigate to that degree, because whilst the car knows exactly where it is, it still requires phenomenal datum to know where the road is, but I’m getting back into work mode.

So when they get into space exploration, as Tomas Martin-Mur, a NASA engineer said, “The symbol I like to use is that we navigate the spacecraft by looking in the rear view mirror.”

I thought to myself that it is therefore obvious having disastrously lost spacecraft going to Mars, that the logical solution would be to invest in putting satellites around Mars and then as they travel further into our solar system, doing the same with other planets. First they can then avoid the seven seconds of terror

and then they can navigate usng the timing signals of Earth and Mars based satellites and then when the have a third planet set up, they will really start to be in a position to navigate accurately.

Why? For a start it means they can land accurately because they know where they are or will be despite the limitations of time and space. Secondly there are potentially all sorts of materials for harvest, potential for scientific research into how we came to be here and lots of commercial benefits.

I think Elon Musk is playing the big game and not just about getting to Mars, but given reduced budgets in the Space Race, he s potentially putting himself in the drivers seat, both for Mars exploration and establishing bases or even hotels there, but also as a forerunner to space exploration.

Isn’t it ironic that the man behind Tesla (the driverless car I’m not talking about because it’s a bit too close to work) is able to fund research that ‘The Greatest Country on Earth’ can’t? Of course as soon as they are successful, the revenue potential for his company SpaceX is astronomical if you will pardon the pun.

Of course on the other side of the world Richard Branson has figured out the same thing. Whilst Virgin Galactic is promoting paid space flight trips and I have friends eagerly awaiting their turn on flights they have already paid for, Branson is also talking Satellites. After all its not good for business to lose a commercial spacecraft full of some of the wealthiest and most influential people on the planet.

As Branson says “This is rocket science.” The video also says that the 700 people signed up is more than have been in space more than have been in space in the history of space travel. It also points out the profound impact that each traveler on the ‘return trip’ will bring back to their communities around the world.

So, its been a fun distraction. It is amazing to me that a few individuals with very BHAGS (Big Hairy Aggressive Goals) are changing the world where Governments appear not to want to look that far into the future, whilst they know they need and want the outcomes. I guess that is the difference between people who are in it until the next election vs people who are committed to the outcome no matter what. When Branson was asked if he came near to giving up after the crash of his first spaceship, he said he never came near to giving up.

I am inspired by people who keep their eye on the prize. It gives me hope that sticking with my minuscule in comparison goals, such as encouraging citizens to use real time travel information to make smarter decisions on their journey plans to minimize the impact on their own journeys and in doing so, ensure that growing cities can prosper even though they are land poor and can’t keep up with the travel needs of their citizens.

We each have a place in society, whether it is the taxi driver, the person clearing tables in a food hall, or an entrepreneur who sticks with his guns despite everyone who says “You can’t do that.” I just wish I could live a hundred years and see where humanity goes. Will we be egocentric or ecocentric?

Are you still with me? What do you think?

 

Census 2013 So What Did You Think?


CensusOur household did it online and I have to say it was a smooth and easy process. The questions we didn’t have to answer were grayed out and we were all done and dusted in no time. Hopefully this means that finally we can hold referendums and vote online in future.

However, to me it was a major missed opportunity to learn more about who Kiwis are, what they do and where. This seemed to be to be simply a modern version of the feudal system where nobility tried to establish how much tax they could claim from their citizens. I love the Census system, always used to use copies of the books the Statistics Department used to put out and have been a keen user of the tables and tool builders on the website over more recent years. This Big Data has a huge impact on where to do business, where to build shops and factories, schools etc and the potential to not require costly double ups of data collection as will remain necessary for many Government organisations.

Here are a few thoughts from me of things that I would have liked to know and would have been easy to include and a few comments on what was included:

Ethnicity. For a country that is so multi-ethnic there were only 8 ethnicities offered and one of them was New Zealand European. That effectively makes it a political question and one that does not allow qualitative or quantitative research. As anyone who has studied statistics knows, most European Caucasians will  select the first option, leaving us with skewed data. How about culture. I know people who will register as Chinese because they look like their ancestors, but were born and raised in New Zealand and in most things they do other than appearance are indistinguishable from any other NZ born person. On the other hand there are people who totally live the culture of their family and do not integrate much with our everyday society.

The question on what languages you can have a conversation in, was easy for people who really don’t speak English, to say they do. This to me is important because we know there are now large numbers of people who will struggle to answer a question like “where is the nearest dairy?” in English.

What is your religion? This to me is very old school. You either belong to a sect or you have no religion. What if you are agnostic, spiritual but don’t belong to a particular church? This would effectively assume that if you have no religion, you do not believe in a higher spirit, God if you will.

I would have liked to know what people’s jobs are. As a futurist, I’m aware that many of today’s roles or job titles didn’t exist 20 years ago and it would be very interesting to be able to identify shifts in trends in employment. Yes, this information is available to IRD, but I want to know these answers and you could argue the same about the table which asks about personal annual income.

The employment questions also didn’t support all options. For example, I am a founder in a couple of start-ups. I am not an employee and I do not draw any money from the companies. I work very long hours in them. But I couldn’t answer the how many hours do you work in your job, because I’m not employed by the companies. These are not family businesses or family farms, although we do have a project creating virtual pets. Because I don’t have a ‘job’ all the options below these questions were grayed out. I was left with the questions of did I apply for a job and if so, how. BTW I also do not get any sort of benefit from the Government.

The only questions on health focused on disabilities that stop you from earning money or require a benefit. Wouldn’t it have been interesting to get more information on conditions such as asthma, diabetes, ADHD, Autism, Cancer etc. where people continue to work or study. Not so much from a single point in time but from a trend perspective. Tie this into geospatial mesh blocks and area units and some very interesting information might have emerged. What about depression and mental health? If we were able to see statistics based on location, what discoveries might that lead to? Perhaps ones that Government doesn’t want to reveal?

They asked how many cars were available to the household, not how old they were, how often they were used, how big the engines were, whether they were NZ new? Yes, again I know this information is collected by other Government agencies, but it is not made available to the public and business in the same way.

Question 32 would have appealed to teachers. In the last 7 days did you work for pay, profit or income for an hour or more. Novopay anyone? How many people worked but haven’t been paid? Many have waited much more than a week, I’ve heard of people who still have pay overdue for months! (No I am not a teacher).

What else would I like to know?

  • Do you have a land-line (that has dial tone)? Because in the event of power outages like earthquakes, they often still work.
  • Do you have a broadband connection? VOIP?
  • How many computers do you have at home that can access the internet?
  • How many mobiles do you have in the household that are connected? How many of those are Smartphones?
  • How many hours a week do you spend: Playing Sport or other outdoor activities? In club or organised activities? Watching TV? Playing computer games? On social media?
  • Do you BYOD to work and use it for work purposes?
  • How often do you buy fast food or eat out?
  • What about savings? What do people do with their money? Are they part of a super scheme like Kiwi Saver? Do they buy stocks (Mighty River Power would like to know)? What was the last big purchase in the last 12 months?
  • How about leisure, do they go away for a holiday? In NZ or overseas? Can they afford one at all? How long for?

There are many more questions that could have been asked like, how easy was it to complete this online? Would you be happy to vote in the next elections online?

So in summing up, its great to finally have a Census again and I’m looking forward to finding out what has changed in New Zealand, particularly as a result of the Canterbury earthquakes, but also information like how many NZ born people have left the country permanently, what is the make up of this country today compared to the last Census.

Congratulations on what appeared to be a smooth online operation, but what a missed opportunity to get some more learning. I think there has been so much focus on finally getting the job done, that there was insufficient focus on getting some highly important and valuable new data. The world has changed so much in 5 years. It appears like Novopay, that not much else has when it comes to taking advantage of 21st Century technology.

What do you think?

Low Carbon Future


I’ve just finished reading an excellent story by Chris Barton in the NZ Herald, which is a good primer for the Copenhagen conference that John Key is going to? The cricket on TV is on in the background and apparently Key is in Wellington watching New Zealand vs Pakistan, so he doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to get to the airport.

He quotes Phil Scadden, a geo-scientist from Dunedin, as saying that by 2025 we could cover all our energy needs using wind, hydro, geothermal and other relatively green sources if we were prepared to spend a great deal of money.

I find it hard to believe that NZ will spend the money, especially if we are insistent on Kyoto and other deals which would require us to pay other countries who have less carbon emissions than us. For my money I think that we should invest the same amount of money on cleaning up our own act.

I ask myself if we can afford to be prissy about seeing lots of wind turbines on hilltops. Personally I think they look really good. I was in the Netherlands earlier this year and the site of hundreds of wind turbines was quite inspiring. I don’t have a problem with having them far enough away so they don’t cause noise polution. We have plenty of great spots in the country that are almost always windy, such as Ohakea, which I believe from memory means place where four winds meet. It certainly never disappointed when I used to go down to the Ohakea Air Base to race land yachts, a very green speed sport:)

Something that annoys me when we talk about clean and green in this country is the lack of emission controls for diesel vehicles. If I was given a dollar for each diesel soot sprewing truck, with black soot backs delivering frozen meat, I would be able to retire today.

I’d also like to know why NZ is following other countries, with Feed-in Tarriffs, which I have previously blogged about. The concept was raised a long time ago by the Green Party, where there would be subsidies and incentives for people to put solar panels on their rooves and allowed them to sell surplus power into the grid.

Anyway, this whole situation disturbs me. Instead of fixing our problem at home, we want to pay other countries who are more fortunate than us, in having more trees etc. NZ has the ability to be self sustainable if we put our brilliant scientists and inventers on the job. We could be isolated from a lot of the problems of climate change in other parts of the world. Once we have it licked, then we can give them access to our know how. That might make a great new export for us.

For now, I’ve been for a 9 1/2 km bush walk/jog, finished my blog and am going to go and by an electric lawn mower. It is plastic, doesn’t need oil or petrol, won’t rust and will therefore last much longer.

I want a domestic Robot


I’m not into singularity, I reckon if we built a robot that has the ability to think in similar ways to humans, they will see us as illogical and like HAL 9000, will consider that it knows better than us what is good for us. But the idea of robots that can take away some of the drudgery of domestic chores, makes a lot of sense. 

In previous blogs I’ve written about the stories we were told in Tomorrow’s Schools when I was a junior futurist, where technology would do all the work and leave us to worry about what to do with our leisure time. This of course didn’t happen, so now I find myself working no less than 50 hours a week and begruding having to spend a lot of my weekends doing chores around the house. 

So the concept of having a robot that vaccuums my house, mows the lawn, washes windows and genrally keeps my home looking spotless, makes a lot of sense. New Zealand isn’t one of those countries where professionals employ housekeepers, most of us have to fend for ourselves. I have many interests including walking, skiing, writing songs, going to concerts, playing poker etc. In my ideal world, there would be no house work, unless it was because it is what I really want to do, although I can’t imagine why, unless it was a green moment in my rock garden.

Korea has been looking at the area of robotics and particularly for domestic use, although defense and medicine are other major opportunities for them and I guess military and surgical robots combined with nanotechnology do offer hugely attractive revenue potential. Korea has been very innovative and when it comes to high tech electronics is right up there with the leaders.

A few years ago the Korean Government made a commitment to have a domestic robot in every home between 2015 and 2020. 

Domestic robots have now come under the term of Personal Robots. Personal robots have been conceived to do everything from bring you a beer, to teaching children to learn languages and help with their homework. There is even an Institute for Personal Robots in Education! 

MIT has a Personal Robots Group, which is exploring many aspects of technology and also human – robot interaction. As well as exploring the many technologies that are involved in developing this technology, they are focussing on what sort of things people would want them to be able to do and ensuring that they can adapt to new tasks, not considered in the initial design.

If you think that buying a domestic robot is over the top and frivolous, maybe security is a good opportunity for you. Imagine your robot, with wireless communications and the ability to transmit  what is going on anywhere in your home, controlled via your mobile. You could see if you left the stove on, whether Johnny is doing his homework, or check the house if the alarm goes off. If it went off because you left your cat inside, it could herd it towards the cat door. It wouldn’t get frustrated and impatient.

While this may all seem very futuristic, as I said at the beginning of this blog, Korea is planning for a domestic robot in every home within the next 9 years, Honda, who gave us Asimo (named after Isaac Asimov who invented the 3 Laws of Robotics) have now come up with a new version, which can be successfully controlled by human thought!  

 

The new Asimo from Honda

The new Asimo from Honda

Given that one of the biggest spends for robots is for military use, which I will explore in a future blog, and an expectation that singularity will happen in the next 20 years, I’ll leave the last word to Hal 9000:

While this blog is starting to get a good following, I would love to get more readers and encouraging me to keep writing. If you feel that my blog is interesting I would be very grateful if you would vote for me in the category of best blog at the NetGuide Web Awards. Note that the form starts each site with www whereas my blog doesn’t and is of course https://luigicappel.wordpress.com.

Thanks so much for your support:)

And please leave a comment, and tell someone else about this blog if you think they will find it interesting:)

What’s wrong with calling yourself a New Zealander


I love the Census. Every 5 years we get this massive set of questions about who we are, where we come from, what we do, where we live etc. There is an amazing wealth of information in the Census and this time the Government have made it available for free if you can find what you want without assistance.

I spend a lot of time helping people on the fringe of this and am working on the development of a web application to help people view both their own business data and relevant Census data. Watch for this in a future blog if you are following me.

One of the questions they ask us Kiwis is about our ethnicity. I remember in 2006 when there was a strong movement of people saying to each other that they had had enough of the racial issues between Maori and Pakeha (and this clearly came from both sides of the fence).  A large percentage of Kiwis grew up side by side with Caucasians, Maori and people from many othr places including the Pacific Islands. They grew up as friends and neighbours and if there was discussion of ethnicity it was with interest and pride, not with any tensions or mistrust.

On that theme, 400,000 Kiwis signed their ethnicity, not by selected tick boxes for European Caucasion. New Zealand Maori etc, they signed in a text box called other as New Zealanders.

Whilst this made sense in a way as they tried to make their point, it has also caused some significant problems for organisations who use that information for decision making and the Department of Statistics is looking for ways to get better information in the next Census is 2010.

In the Statistics New Zealand Draft report, prepared for public discussion, they outlined some of the concerns and explained ways that the ethnicity data is used. Here are some examples including some of my own:

  • The health sector uses ethnicity data to target services for groups experiencing inequalities in health. For example, it is commonly known that Maori have a significantly lower life expectancy than Europeans.
  • Asian people, especially new immigrants have unique health needs.
  • Local government agencies use these statistics in planning and service delivery, particularly in regions experiencing significant demographic, social and economic change.
  • Marketers with products targeted and particular groups are able to identify where those markets reside.
  • Education planning needs to take into consideration the demographics that make up local communities to ensure that education services are relevant to the needs of that community. Diverisyt is a key tenet in the NZ education system, but in order to best support it and plan for it, statistics are requred.
  • In the business world, demographics can help with many aspects of business planning. For example a manufacturer of baby bottles found that in one area bottles with blue teets weren’t selling and in another area bottles with yellow teets weren’t selling. After a year or so with lots of stock thrown away or discounted they discovered that it was an ethnicity issue. By rotating the stock to the other areas the problem was solved.
  • Today we have many ethnic communities, which is a relatively new situation, at least in Auckland where most of the population lives. This can be very useful for specialist retailers or service providers such as ethnic supermarkets, restaurants, clothing, music and entertainment providers. This is also of relevance for churches who want a lot of their congregation to be able to walk to their place of worship, immigration consultants, language schools or ESOL and so on.If a business can identify where their target market lives, they can better plan on placement of their business or how to find their new customers.

From a futurist persepctive we can use this information to try to predict what the city and country will look like in the future, where the opportunities and threats lie and how to support the changing community. For many people, New Zealand is seen as a wonderful safe and green place to live and raise a family, but each one brings a piece of their own culture with them, but also bring issues of culture, work training, language, education, commerce and the need to belong to a group of people with similar interests and problems, while their children are assimilating into the local community. New Zealand has changed dramatically over the last few decades and it is essential to the wellbeing of the country that the Census accurately represents statistics that can assist in making sure that everyone is able to enjoy living in this country and able to contribute in their own ways.

The Census provides valuable information about the changing nature of our country. Unfortunately this ‘movement’ towards calling people Kiwis means that it has been very difficult to monitor the change in ethnicity in NZ from the 2001 Census to the 2006 Census, meaning that the data is difficult to use for a 10 year period.

Statistics New Zealand is now asking the country for input as to how to allow people to assert their relationship to the country, while at the same time allowing Statistics to gather important information in order to help the country meet the needs of the large range of ethnicity in our country.

I think the answer has to accomodate both the desire for people to consider themselves bona fide New Zealanders irrespective of their ethnicity, but it is also essential to understand their roots or backgrounds. It shouldn’t be hard to combine the questions in such a way as to support the need for quality of information as well as the need of people, irrespective of their origins, to feel they belong and are important players in our multicultural society today.

While this blog is starting to get a good following, I would love to get more readers and encouraging me to keep writing. If you feel that my blog is interesting I would be very grateful if you would vote for me in the category of best blog at the NetGuide Web Awards. Note that the form starts each site with www whereas my blog doesn’t and is of course https://luigicappel.wordpress.com.

Thanks so much for your support:)

Whos Looking at you on Facebook?


Sometime ago I wrote a couple of blogs about What can they find out about you on Facebook. In the second blog I did some digging into a random person who hadn’t managed her privacy settings. You will find many references to Facebook and other social network applications in my recent blogs, but here’s the thing, I wrote about what they could find out about you, but not so much about who’s looking.

I have also often blogged about how Science Fiction has a way of becoming reality and it seems that many of my favourite writers were foretelling the future. Some of these blogs were: A San Francisco Artist wanting a bionic eye, Living Longer with Cryonics, using In-Vitro to feed the future, Sky Scrapers and High Society, and tracking people with RFID.

Whether it was Orwell, Bradbury, Philip K Dick, Heinlein or any of my other favourites, they often had a common thread. That is a police state environment where privacy and personal freedom becomes something for people to fight to win back. Where for whatever good reason, governments gave themselves the right, initially with good intentions, to spy on the public or restrict their ability to communicate their personal beliefs. That was what the 5th Ammendment was all about. Of course some countries, like New Zealand don’t have a formal constitution and we generally have the attitude that everyone is trustworthy and honest until proven otherwise. I’d have to say that in many ways this has also served us well downunder, in that even though crime is rising at alarming rates, especially violent crime and the police now charge people for using unreasonable force in defending themselves, we are a much safer country than many I have visited in recent years.

Just on that topic of self defence. What actually is reasonable force. If you are faced with someone with a gun or other weapon, who knows how to use it and has experience with violence and you don’t, the situation is very different for a law abiding person who has never had to defend themselves before. If you know someone else will use whatever means they can to hurt you, possibly even kill you and are unpredictable. At what point does self defence become unreasonable. If the person who attacked you is o the ground but you are afraid they will get up again and running isn’t an option. If you are afraid and your heart is full of adrenalin, how can you be expected to know how or when to stop? Police are trained in the use of restraint and know how to deal with difficult situations, where the public are not. I don’t have the answer, but I do feel that criminals need to know that they won’t always get away with violent crime and that victims should have the rigt to defend themselves. But I digress.

Anyway, what prompted this reminder, that I hadn’t focussed much on who would want to look at your personal information on Facebook, was a story in this morning’s NZ Herald (which I couldn’t find online), with the Headline Govt plans to spy on social website users. I did find a story from the Daily Mail yesterday which in essence says that they plan to be able to monitor all email, social networking sites etc, because it is fertile ground for terrorists to communicate and plan.

Now I don’t have a problem, providing information is monitored under a search warrant, but blanket ability to go through all Internet usage of everyone is pushing it a little too far don’t you think? They are wanting the right to not only read everything you write, publish or comment on the net, but even to get a record of every single URL or website you visit.

I’ve always worked on the basis that I have nothing to hide, and indeed if you Google my name, you will be able to find out pretty much anything you want to know about me and my life. Maybe that’s a good thing because it makes me kind of transparent. But by giving government organisations rights beyond what anyone can do on the internet, the ability to intercept everything you do on the web, must be an invasion of good citizens privacy and I hope that there will be restrictions put in place, just as is required in most countries for telephone taps etc. The fear is that in any society there are corrupt individuals who could abuse their position. That is where we need protection.

There is no doubt that the threat of terrorism means that new measures must be put in place to locate terrorists, terrorist training grounds and do whatever is necessary to keep us safe from harm. But like any law and order legislation and policies, there must be reasonable suspicion and controls. Otherwise the risk that more of the Science Fiction writers stories about oppressive states undermining the rights of its citizens could become a reality in the ‘developed world’. I want to feel safe from harm, but I also want to know that my individual rights to freedom of expression and belief are protected.

 

Haptic Virtual Reality Suits


Lots of people escape the world through the internet, some with games, perhaps web environments like Second Life, but what’s happened to Virtual Reality that promised so much so many years ago. From what I understand the only thing really holding things back is the cost.

One thing that I would love to see is Sport VR. Imagine if you could don a suit and be your favorite All Black or soccer star. You could see what they see and feel (desensitised off course) the tackles and the thrill of the game.

There are already a range of body suits such as the Inlabs Motion Capture Suit that can be used to capture body motion data for a variety of purposes. These can be used for sports medicine, training and biomechanical research. Forms of this technology have been used to help develop movie models for animation, allowing models to look like they are real by taking motion information from people.

VR is used by the military to train pilots and the US Navy has VR parachute trainers so that they can experience everything, the visuals, the thump when the chute opens and the harness touch points grip your body.

In the future VR will support remote medicine using robots to perform surgery. In some cases the surgeon will be there, in other cases it might be through telemedicine where experts can influence or control surgery remotely from anywhere in the world with reliable broadband connections. Micro surgery is already taking place today which is far less invasive and allows recovery to be much quicker than normal.

VR would make a lot of sense in remote and dangerous locations, for example space exploration. There are major issues with space travel where the distances, event to other planets in our solar system represents years in each direction. Wouldn’t it be great if we had the dexterity (or better) of a human without having to actually send a human to Mars.

Virtual Reality is a natural progression of technology that we have already become used to. Look at the number of phones inlcuding iPhone and Windows Mobile devices from brands such as HTC which have gyroscopes that recognise which way the device is facing and automatically change the screen format accordingly. Wii fitness has become incredibly popular, combining a video game with exercise has rapidly propelled Nintendo back into leadership in the TV games world.

Worlds like Second Life, using VR could mean that the avatars become totally lifelike and the whole gaming world is in for a shakeup. Imagine all the action games where you are actually running and shooting, driving and crashing cars and feeling all the bumps and hits.

Of course the more fun this becomes the greater the risks that people will prefer VR to real life. In Japan there have been problems for a number of years where children prefer to stay in the rooms every day just living on their computers and don’t want to go into the real world. They are known as hikikimori. People like that are now appearing around the world, where virtual reality is preferable to real life.

Of course there are those who are elderly or severely disabled where VR could give them some semblance of normal experiences that they otherwise wouldn’t. Imagine being restricted to your bed or a wheelchair, but being able to experience the sensations of walking or running, or even sex.

I won’t delve too far into this, but the ultimate in safe sex could be VR sex. People who are severely disabled, or who find it difficult to find partners could have their experience without risk. It appears that they haven’t yet been manufactured in a form that is safe, but it is coming. Michael Anissimov has some good ideas and I will leave the last word to him from his accelerating future blog.