Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Outdated education

I'm a total believer in paperless, the problem is I was raised to think with pencil and paper and I find myself still a little limited by that every time I try to just think in front of the computer. It's probably a combination of things, for one thing tools in the computer are not good enough to substitute one of those sketches you can do in paper, with drawings, some writing, those useful arrow connections, etc. On the other side I tend to believe that part of the limitation is that all the generations up to today are being raised with pencil and paper and then they have to "convert" to a growing digital world. Newer generations that were born with computers as a fact, will get so much farther in building the tools that are needed to become digital, as they have less of this limitation. Further more, I believe if a kid today were to be taught to read and write directly in a computer, they will have a great advantage on their side and they will be able to integrate the digital world to a greater extent, creating the right tools and taking the best advantage of being totally digital.
Our generations are caught up in the middle of the digital revolution, you still need paper but paper is no longer good. I'm amazed to see how much behind is our education system around the world. I'm disappointed to see how my 6 year old is being taught in almost the same way I was, 30 years later! I feel like saying, hey, wake up! the world changed!! We need to give our kids the opportunity to be better prepared to survive in a digital world. It'll happen sooner or later, we're going towards a paperless world, but the sooner the better ...

Friday, November 17, 2006

Lego Mindstorms, greatest toy ever

We got it on Sunday, for $250 you get all you need to build your robot (vehicle, animal or humanoid) and program it as well. Nicole (6) and I started with the basic vehicle robot and we had fun building it (similar to puzzle activities, very calmed and focused activity which is great for Coco) and then we programmed it to go and come back at different speeds and simple things like that. The following days we added one build feature a day and programmed it. The latest one is able to go, sense a ball, grab it and come back (it doesn't always work, but pretty cool).
This weekend we'll get into the human bot and we'll experiment with more sensors. Nicole does not completely grasp the programming part, which basically is choosing a tool for a particular function (go, wait for sensor, sending forward or back movements to servos, etc) and then setting some properties (for instance which port to use, it has 3 output and 4 input ports). She gets the tool part but still didn't get much involved with the properties, as for now it was all new, we'll focus in some things at a time.
It really seems to be a great learning tool. For one thing she can program a machine and see the results out there in the real world, which is for sure easier to grasp and similar to what the future world will be more and more about. On the other hand it does require a certain degree of conceptualization, logic thinking to program something you need to define the steps to go from A to B to C, etc.
I think it'd be nice to have some tool simpler even than their dev language to teach my little one Angelina, when she's about 4 probably.
We plan to add other devices like a wireless camera to send images to the computer and extra stuff like that when we're done playing with the lego set. The Microsoft Robotics Studio is supposed to be able to program this lego bot as well.

Google co-op search and outgoing links

I tried Google's co-op search tool couple weeks ago. Unless you're a non-profit it'll display ad words. It allows you to create your own search engine experience customizing the web sites to be included on your search, refining labels, and other settings.
This morning I was thinking that it's a pain to have to manually maintain the list of websites that should be including, most likely a growing list over time.
Then, I was thinking that if you consider your included websites as the core of your search and you follow outgoing links you will highly probably find the list of your extended neighborhood where your search should be targeting.
Right now when you setup your co-op search engine you select between two preferences:
"How to search included sites:
. Search the entire web but emphasize included sites.
. Search only included sites."
There could be a third option that would be, "Search the entire web but emphasize included sites and proximity sites". The definition of proximity sites would be those sites that have less outgoing link distance to the included sites (the included sites have 0 distance, the sites linked from the included files have one degree of distance, the ones that those ones link to have a two degrees of distance and so forth).
This way the search would give the most relevance to the included sites (increased page rank), then some extra relevance to the sites in greater proximity to the included sites (some page rank increase depending on degree of proximity) and lastly it’ll be bringing search relevant unrelated sites (standard Google page rank).
It does reduce the maintenance time, as if I forget to include newly linked sites into my included sites, it will happen automatically for me as soon as I include a link on any of my included sites to a new one and exponentially through the new of proximity links.
Another alternative would be to offer this option to the end user when they do the search. (search: co-op name, co-op name proximity, web search), this way you could define a Google search for your website without having to set any set of included sites but just looking at the site you include the link itself and automatically calculating the closer neighborhood.
Actually this search is opposite to the 'Similar pages' link that appears in the regular search, so another option would be from the search result page to have 'Neighborhood pages'.
I know outgoing links have had no relevance whatsoever in the current search scheme, but I think that changes when you're site centered as opposed to web centered.
Anyway ... just a thought ...

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Bots, bots, bots

Some areas where bots are growing strong:

1. Microsoft just launched their November CTP for the Robotics Studio. It allows you to program a real bot plus it has a nice simulation tool running on top of DirectX. It also allows you to program web based interfaces for controlling bots remotely.

2. Lego Mindstorms is a great "toy" for kids. It has a nice visual programming tool with a simulation space as well. The bots and software are rather expensive but it seems to be a wonderful introductory programming tool for kids with results they can see on real life. They can program their toys, love this!

3. IM bots are getting better. Microsoft closed in September their contest and there seem to be some nice entries. It has to get a lot smarter than it is now. A big natural language interpretation challenge, but nice examples and a lot of potential. IKEA has Anna that does a not too bad job as help desk. Help desk bots is an area that will sure just expand. I remember being on the phone with first line of support for products such as wireless network adapters, and really I would have been better off talking with a bot than a person like the one I had on the phone. You will still need your second line of support, but for sure it can save you a lot.

Thursday, November 09, 2006


This Sony gadget called "My Life Online" is a nice little innovative device introducing the concept of wi-fi skype phone with browsing and messaging capabilities. As the wi-fi cloud expands this kind of devices will make more sense as an alternative to mobile phones specially for the youngsters as they do not need of a monthly service fee (and no minute or messages limit to exceed, a big problem in cellphones among youngs).
I'm surprised it does not have a camera and no gaming experience which coming from Sony is indeed surprising.
Something I'm glad to see is that it also competes with the iPod, as it has music capabilities. It is time for some gadget to save us from the iPod, which I believe will be seen historically as a great marketing success and a very limited gadget (a Swiss army knife to the extreme, no tools just the knife ;). No doubt people like it simple ... but eventually the needs overcome the simplicity drive, I hope.
Summarizing, it competes with mobile phones, iPods and in third place it seems to be a big push for the web as a platform paradigm as it's an all non-microsoft internet based services providers alliance. I like it!
It definitely can't beat the Windows Mobile phone/pocket pc experience in the short term, but it seems like a nice option that can grow in the future.
Interesting little device. It might be a nice Santa's gift if that gaming browser experience is good enough ...