10th: How cars talk to each other?

I came out with this idea while driving the other day.

The car ahead of me drove me crazy that day:

  1. It did not close the gas cap, so the cover was dangling, very uncomfortable to watch;
  2. It did it twice, NOT just once —- changing lane without using the signal. Once it cut me through, the second time it cut another car to different lane.

I was literally doing this gesture, twice!

So I was thinking: how can I communicate with another car, but the driver is a complete stranger?

I guess I could use hand gesture, like waving, which most people do when the car behind let us cut in. But in this case, I need to transmit more information.

What about something like this: Led Programmable Sign Board for cars?

car mounted rear LED message
car mounted rear LED message

I suppose it could work; however, I would have to first drive in front of that car, and then quickly punch the message I want to say, and then I have to make sure I stay long enough before the target car, so that driver can finish reading my message, since the message will be scrolling.

Honking, seems to be the only option left. But it will not be easy to reveal the message. For example, I believe we all have seen some cars forget the changing the turn signal back, or turning off the emergence light, or even in this case, leaving the gas cap dangling.

In the future, cars can probably talk to each to exchange information such as speed and distance, but without consent, cars can never forward a message from the driver, so humans in different cars can never really communicate.

I feel this is a problem…

 

9th: The Honesty Game – Part Two – the support and punishment social system

This is the part two of 8th: The Honesty Game – Part One – the game

Part one discussed a gaming system relies on aggregating social data from the player to grow the game character. It assumes the players opt in to share their personal information, so they gain the benefits like, growing their game characters with the player’s real-life activities, and exploring more interesting plots in the game depending on what the player does in real world.

There is always debate in how much personal data we are willing to sacrifice.

Big Data

In case you haven’t heard this buzz word enough, we can now process more data than ever.

A few years ago, some universities use big data to provide financial support to poor students. It does make sense, for a few reasons:

  1. Universities are relatively closed. They are like individual communities.
  2. Poor students are likely to dine in school’s cafeteria more than rich students.
  3. It is not hard to use data-driven analysis to understand which students are more struggling financially than others.

Can we go further?

Social Support

I don’t really want to talk about the depressing topic about homelessness.

However, imagine a city, where everyone has to use a card for anything, such as buying groceries, taking public transits, and using any public service (like libraries, or going to a shelter).

It will be very easy to understand which family spends more and which family needs more help or doesn’t. Won’t it?

Hang on, I know some people will want to say something. Allow me to finish next section.

HOV/bus-only lane cheater

If you lived in Seattle, you would probably have seen HOV or bus-only lane cheaters, a lot! The government has decided to raise the fine for repetitive cheaters. However, even radio show had discussed people would not care, if they value the time more than getting stuck in traffic.

The solution? Personally, I feel it should be proportion based fine.

For example, the first violation fine will be a fixed number. The second violation fine (say within a year) will be all of the money this person has in the month. Let’s say we collect the monthly income and spending data of a person, so we can get an estimation of this person’s monthly spending amount. This person’s fine for second violation will be the entire estimated monthly remaining, which should already exclude the spending on food and living expense.

To be more precise, let’s say someone usually has $1000 income, which needs to pay $500 for rent and $300 for food. The fine will be $200. Now another person usually has $20,000 monthly income, $5000 for mortgage and $1000 for food, so this person normally has $14,000 monthly remaining. Then this person’s second violation fine will be $14,000!

I guarantee no one will violate second time.

Socialism, Communism, or what?

Now go back to the previous section, if we really collect everyone’s data and provide support accordingly, is it socialism, or communism, or some-ism?

I don’t know and I don’t really care.

As a normal citizen, I probably share the ideas with many others. I am guessing most people want:

  • living safely in this world, with food and a place;
  • raise a family, protect our children;
  • make sure our children and their children have a home to live;

People questioning what kind of -ism are the people who have been living way too happy and comfortable. In the time people have no food or no home, who would ask those questions?

Honesty Game, or the social credit system, will it really happen?

Will such a system really happen?

Will our data all be monitored and analyzed by the government one day?

Actually, I am not sure if it has happened already or not. Some people may think it’s already happening, and it’s not just in China.

I lean to believe we will eventually enter an era of no more personal privacy. Maybe in a long time, maybe in just a  few years. It will be a game changer (pun intended).

 

8th: The Honesty Game – Part One – the game

This week I am off, so I decide to probably post 2 ideas, which actually source from the same origin. This is the part one and part two is coming shortly.

In 2012 after I left Price Industries, I spent roughly a year on thinking about my life. I built a website, went back to school and participated some researches again, and talked to a few investors about my bullshit ideas. One of them is this idea called: The Honesty Game.


The Game

I did’t really have a story outlined clearly. But this game is like Diablo or Warcraft. It’s typical that a player can choose strength-based, agility-based, or intelligence-based character, kill monsters and collect treasure. Of course there will be a story line why doing so, I haven’t figured that out yet. However, what makes the game special is how the character grows.

Small portion of growth is through the game playing, like gaining experience by finishing a task (inside the game). But large portion of the growth can be dictated from outside of the game.

This game allows the players connect their additional social accounts with the game. Those accounts will aggregate all data in real life to improve their game characters. For example, if a fitness account shows the player has done a run in real life, the game character will gain some strength; an aerobic exercise may gain some agility; sleeping well will gain some stamina; finishing a book, or even checking in at a bookstore may gain some intelligence.

There are so many things we can link from real life to the game, like where does the player go to (check in), what does the player buy, what does the player post in social network, even if this player has been paying his/her debit, all can not only impact the growth of the game character, but also impact the story line.

Privacy?

I don’t think I was the only person who came out with such an idea in 2012; I like to think there were many people way ahead of my crazy nonsense.

The whole idea is a little like Black Mirron – Nosedive, aired in 2016. But with more!

That’s why the game is called: The Honesty Game.

Everything you do in real life, needs to be honest, and will change how you proceed inside the game.

But of course, people will ask, where is the privacy?

I will always think this way:

  1. Do we really have privacy nowadays, or do we just have an illusion of having privacy?
  2. Are people willing to sacrifice their privacy, in exchange of benefits or convenience?

I give away my personal information (to a certain degree) when shopping on Amazon; so is using any other website, in exchange of the service I am receiving.

History tells us, shutting down the border of a country with other countries would not help growth (yes, I may be hinting something). I was referring to the Qing dynasty in Chinese history. They were so ignorant at the time and eventually got invaded by Western Countries hard.

Maybe today, people will still try to fight to protect privacy, actually they just try to fight to have the illusion longer. Eventually, maybe no one will care any more. Or maybe, one day, the controversial Social Credit System will be implemented. Even many Internet discussion are still laughing at it, it may not be a very bad idea after all. I will elaborate another idea related to it in Part Two.

But here is the thing:

Privacy or not?

We should always be allowed to have a choice.

People can choose to live off the grid, in a cave, social-account-less, or not to have any service, such as playing The Honesty Game.

Or they can choose to be enrolled.


Conclusion

I actually went back to China and presented The Honesty Game to a few people. They all liked it. Interestingly, they did not consider privacy as an issue. It’s China after all. Most companies are collecting people’s data already, and China is now almost a cashless country, which means many people rely on their smart device in daily life already.

The biggest issue, however, is having strong connection with the big player in the market, such as Tencent, Alibaba, etc.. Those companies control most people’s data, and then it’s the Internet censorship in China. We discussed how government will have to allow the game to be connected with all other data providers, and what type of challenges we may encounter. Not very straightforward unless we have big players involved.

The second issue was: I was not a game developer. I don’t really have any prototype or design to show. I only have a pile of BS.

Anyway, I still like this idea. I read a story a few days ago, and came to realize that this idea could actually be used in a different way. Check the Part Two.

BTW, if you are looking for a laughter. I just rewatched IT Crowd and found this episode about “Friendface” very hilarious. Kind of related to this topic.

 

7th: Can kids write a book?

I want to say the answer is definitely yes.

Totally biased opinion: I can’t describe how creative my little one can be. She is truly remarkable.

The other day, I told her I will be working in a different company. BTW, today is my last day of working at Starbucks. Enjoyed my years there, but ready to move on the next chapter.

I told her, the cafeteria in my new company serves unlimited pickles. I can bring you a pickle when I pick you up. (context: I am usually the one picks her up from school and she always wants a small piece of snack after school).

Next, she started talking non-stop with pickles. She always talks too much, which is annoying. People always say it’s better than a kid does not like to talk to people. I guess it’s right. She started talking pickles, making up conversation between two pickles. Yes, you read it right. She was using two different voices talking,

“hello, I am a pickle, my favorite food is pickle”;

“I have a sister and she is a pickle too”;

“you are a pickle, can I have a bite?”

Pretty much like that, non-stop. I was driving at that time, it’s hilarious and I told her, “you should write a book about it”.

I almost immediately regretted it, because she started making up background of the story and more pickles coming up.

It was annoying, but still hilarious; OK, I admit it, it was pretty awesome.


The Pickle Family cover

Once we got back home, she started her project. First, the book cover. It was very impressive, I particularly love the black dots she used, over the green color she chose. It is very pickle-ry.

The Pickle Family – first page

She tried to introduce the background of the main characters, i.e. the pickle family, who live inside a pickle house. Hmm, I don’t know how that will work, but it’s kind of interesting.

Then she made additional 4 pages, so basically it’s a book with 5 pages. The story is about the two little pickles go to school and then get a detention, after home, their parents are mad… but overall, the plot is completely not making sense. Every time we go to a trip and live in a hotel, she loves watching Disney channel (we don’t have cable at home), some of those shows on Disney channel are very off the chart. We just came back from a trip, it must be influenced by one of those shows she watched.


Anyway, now it’s the core of this week’s idea.

I love what my little one has done. It is very rough, strange, and the story is boring; however, I love it. I want to make it a real book.

There are apparently many companies doing it, of course

Interesting stuff. But I notice something: all of those providers are designed for adults. They all just offer the users to upload a picture, and then select materials, finally pay. These are all adult activities.

Of course, there are some other tools seem to design for kids:

But after I gave them a little try, ugh… not sure any child will really fall into it.

When I look at my kid’s book, I can see she put the most effort in her cover page, and then the first page. Later pages became more and more scribbled. It’s easy to understand: kids can be easily distracted, become inpatient, and lose focus and interest. I want to say most kids are like that, except some gifted ones.

The question then is: how do we keep the kids feeling intrigued during their work?


I  am a big admirer of Bret Victor. He is super smart and chill.

His this talk was my favorite:

Two take-away from this talk:

  1. We should have a principle for ourselves, believe in what we are doing and keep doing it.
  2. Seeing what we are working on is very important, because it provides instant feedback.

Both points have made a big impact in how I work.


When my kid was “writing” the book,

  • she was not receiving the instant feedback;
  • she had to do too much: thinking, writing, drawing and coloring;
  • she became tried (aka, bored) quickly after just couple pages;

That is it, we need an application for kids, which will provide instant feedback and keep the kids feeling interested!

I am calling it: I can draw a book

You can tell I am not very creative.


Application: I can draw a book

Settings

  • tablet;
  • stylus;
  • physical keyboard (very important, so kids can learn how to type);

Target Users

At least older than 6 years, who can spell some simple words and use stylus to draw.

Design

The application is designed to allow anyone to create a drawing story book with computer assistance. By computer assistance, I mean using artificial intelligence to help create characters when typing or drawing.

If you haven’t seen it, try something like this first:

https://www.autodraw.com/ 

https://quickdraw.withgoogle.com/

https://magenta.tensorflow.org/assets/sketch_rnn_demo/index.html

Basically, we almost have a certain level of intelligence to understand what the user tries to draw, or predict what the user wants to draw based on text.

Now imagine my daughter is writing a story about pickle family. She is typing (yes, her school is teaching them typing, she seems to like it):

“There is a town called pickle town…”

Computer will try to generate a small model of town, which matches the concept of pickle town, say having a flag with a pickle in it, or the town is all green, and so on.

When my daughter is writing down:

“Papa pickle….”

Computer will generate possible model of a pickle that looks like a man.

If the user likes the computer generated model, they just drag to use it in the book. Or the user can draw a shape of something, computer will generate what this shape might be. The prediction can change if the user keeps adding details to it.

Every model the user has used in the book can be saved to be reused later in another page. In the case the user wants the model to have a different gesture, the user can drag the existing model, starting draw shapes around it, the computer can try to predict a drawing with the existing model.

A quick mock-up may look like this:

If this application is initially designed to be used by kids, it needs to be very simple. It seems to be an interesting idea to run a user study with it.

 

6th: House hunting with matching furnitures

We have been house hunting lately, because I am about to switch job, hopefully we can move to somewhere in the middle of where my wife works and where I work. If we stay where we live now after I switch, both of us will be driving almost 2 hours a day. Sigh…

We have been seeing houses over a few months now. We both hope this next house will be our home for at least next 10 years, so we really want something perfect and give us a homey feeling. It will be OK to be less ideal or require some work, but we still have our visions and would need the bone of the house meet our expectation.

There are a lot of house listing website, such as Redfin, Zellow, or even MLS, they just give you a set of pictures. Most of those pictures are photoshoped, or taken from an angle giving the best impression. Once you are there physically, you will realize it’s actually smaller, or the layout is completely off the chart.

Some websites do provide a 3D walkthrough view, which is very nice. It does help us to understand the layout before going there. However, I always feel something is missing.


I think most house buyers will share the same intention:

We want to see ourselves living there.

But it will be dumb to put our pictures or hologram inside the 3D viewer. I am going to make this statement here: if technology is really evolving to a point that a home user can do a full body scan to generate a hologram, don’t use this technology to sell houses. That’s dumb.

What I want is: if I put our ideal stuff in the house, will it look like my home?

For example, I really want a pool table and a bookcase with ladder, such as this one:

Quick question: Has anyone else notice something annoying when looking for furniture, the furniture is never placed in your home?

Right, that’s why there exists AR application helping furniture buyers to place the furniture digitally in their own home to experience it. It is close to what I am looking for, but this requires the user must physically be there and own the place.

Now, I want an AI to fuse the house picture and the furniture picture together, using the data of both items, intelligently place the furniture at the most ideal room.

More exciting features are:

  • the AI will recommend if I should change the color of the wall, or choose a different color of the bookcase;
  • the AI will detect there is no room fits the bookcase I select, but will try to recommend a similar style bookcase (with a ladder) that is smaller and will fit in the house I am looking at;
  • the AI will recommend other furniture that can match the bookcase I just pick, with the understanding how much space I have in the room; for example, recommending a piano in a big room with such a bookcase is acceptable, but it will not do so if I move the bookcase in a small room intended as a library. And also, it will never recommend a dining table under this context.

I am actually not a big fan of houses with all the staging furniture. They usually look very nice, and once I move my own stuff in, the house suddenly is not so pretty (don’t judge my taste of furniture, if I know how to stage a house, I am not writing this idea at this moment).

This engine (fusing an empty house with furniture) will significantly improve the buyers’ experience (mostly, me). I will see how the house look like if I put my ideal items in it, can I see myself living there?

Of course my wife has some her own flavor as well. She also wants a study place for our kid. And we have some existing furniture. So the engine will allow users to upload some custom picture with dimension attribute (or hologram scan furniture, now this use case will not be dumb), and smartly place them in the house.


You may ask, wow, it sounds cool, but who would invest building such a thing? I believe home builders, real estate companies, or even designers, contractors, furniture companies all of them can benefit from such an application.

From my superficial understanding of AI and 3D rendering, this application sounds very complicated, but should be still feasible to do. I will leave this idea for other people to do. I was going to call this application “HomeFusion”. Ugh, the name is taken!