As a dedicated web-reader, in recent years I’ve been hearing more and more news about the potential applications of carbon nanotubes, specifically in laptop batteries. Traditional lithium ion batteries are due to be phased out with, starting this year, by hydrogen fuel cells which promise to drastically increase the operational lifespan of laptops from ~5 hours to in the region of 40 hours. However, these batteries have to be physically topped-up with methanol as they cannot be recharged in the traditional manner.

Recently the potential of carbon nanotube technology to offer an alternative form of battery has come to light. Offering a simular charge to standard lithium ion batteries, but only requiring minutes, rather than hours to charge fully, carbon nanotube ultracapacitors offer an alternative form of energy storage.

Both new battery developments have their disadvantages (hydrogen fuel cells needing to be refilled and nanotube ultracapacitors having a relatively small charge capacity), but a combination of the two technologies would provide the instant charge & use ability or nanotubes using a conventional power outlet with the optional staying power of (the more difficultly replacable) hydrogen fuel cell which would only be used when the nanotube battery had been depleted. This would drasitcally reduce the necessity of the continual fuel cell replacements associated with a hydrogen-only solution and would allow for extremely rapid recharge of the nanotube battery when an electrical outlet became available. This combination may finally allow laptops to become what they were originally intended for-computers that are relatively independant of location and availability of an electrical outlet for them to be CONSTANTLY plugged into in order for them to provide desktop replacement computing power on a timetable that allows people to actually complete the work they started!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_nanotube (wikki)http://www.tgdaily.com/2006/03/08/mit_cnt_replace_batteries/ (carbon nanotubes as batteries)
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/3031870.stm (hydrogen fuel cells)

The main problems with the testing that we carried out was that we did not have a particularly large number of users (we had 7 respondants to the questionnaire) and these respondants were all from a similar background – 20-30 age range, mostly students who are “tech-savvy”. On the other hand, this group is likely to be an early adopter of the product. After reviewing and improving the design of the product, it would be a good idea to test it on a wider range of potential users to identify further problems; e.g. issues for users with visual impairments, elderly users or users with fat fingers.

 There was also some confusion from the test users who didn’t quite understand that this would be a touch-screen interface on a fridge – there were concerns that on small monitors the interface would take up too much of the screen, this wouldn’t be an issue as the prototype illustrates a piece of bespoke hardware running the software. It would have been beneficial if we had given a more in-depth introduction to the project and the exact nature of the prototype – it had been assumed that these test users would remember what we were talking about from a previous questionnaire.

Another issue was that we were unable to physically time people carrying out tasks. This was because the test users were not in the same physical location as us, as the prototype and questionnaire are both web-based. Also, the nature of our questions led to some respondants neglecting to give quantative or full answers. This made analysis more difficult and could be remedied by wording questions more carefully, adding addition questions specifically asking for certain data or only testing the prototype on users in the same physical location as us, so that we can resolve any confusion.

An additional effect of being in the same physical location as the testers, would be that the questionnaire could receive a different response when completed in the presence of human questioners, rather than a computer. Users are less likely to respond to “interviewer bias” when answering questions as all users will be asked the same questions in the same way. Additionally, users could be more honest when answering to a computer rather than a human, whose might respond negatively to a user’s opinion or disclose private information (http://www.surveysystem.com/sdesign.htm).

 Unfortunately, more detailed statistical analysis could not be carried out on our result set as the sample user group was too small for the results to be meaningful.

Having created a prototype, we then polled a selection of potential users for the interactive fridge using this questionnaire. We assigned two tasks for the users to do, these were to find a recipe for pancakes from the computers internal database and to find out what produce the fridge was running low on. The results of these tasks will be used to help evaluate the interface design of the system. In addition to these two tasks, we asked the users to evaluate the functionality and design of the system.
Results:
1) On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is “Not clear at all” and 10 is “Very Clear”, how clear is the main menu page?”

All of the test users found that the main page was clear & easy to understand. Some of the suggestions were:

  • As this is a touch-screen system, the buttons should be as large and as clear as possible to make use as easy as possible.
  • It would be beneficial to put a clock on the main menu.
  • The main page is under-used, it would be helpful for the system to give additional information on/next to the buttons, for example “a shepherds pie recipe suggestion” next to the recipe button.

All of the test users found that the main page was clear & easy to understand. Some of the suggestions were:
100% of the results rated the page as 8 out of 10 or above on clearness.
The mean result was 8.86, median 9, mode 8 (with a sample of 7 people).
The standard deviation was 0.83
From these results, we can conclude the main menu page has been well designed, however there is some further functionality that several users would have liked to have seen implemented.

All of the test users found that the main page was clear & easy to understand. Some of the suggestions were:100% of the results rated the page as 8 out of 10 or above on clearness.The mean result was 8.86, median 9, mode 8 (with a sample of 7 people).The standard deviation was 0.83From these results, we can conclude the main menu page has been well designed, however there is some further functionality that several users would have liked to have seen implemented.
2)On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is “Very difficult” and 10 is “Very easy”, how easy was it to find a recipe for pancakes?

Every user found this task extremely easy to achieve without prior knowledge of the system. It took a maximum of three clicks to locate the correct page.Every user found this task extremely easy to achieve without prior knowledge of the system. It took a maximum of three clicks to locate the correct page.
100% of the users rated the task as 10 our of 10 for ease of use.
The mean, median and modal results were 10 (with a sample of 7 people).
The standard deviation was 0
From these results, we can conclude the process used to find recopies was well designed.

Every user found this task extremely easy to achieve without prior knowledge of the system. It took a maximum of three clicks to locate the correct page.100% of the users rated the task as 10 our of 10 for ease of use.The mean, median and modal results were 10 (with a sample of 7 people).The standard deviation was 0From these results, we can conclude the process used to find recopies was well designed.
3)On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is “Very difficult” and 10 is “Very easy”, how easy was it to find out what items you were running low on?”

There was a greater spread of results for this task, most of the users found the information in the end; several could not find it at all.

The mean was 5.14, the median was 6, and the mode was 1 (with a sample of 7 people).
The standard deviation was 2.90
A number of users believed the required page would be located in a different category, either the ‘inventory’ or ‘status’ pages. From these results, we can conclude that this information should be available in both places. According to the users, it should be located in the inventory as it is the most intuitive places to look. It should also be available on the shopping page so users can order what they are running low on.
4) The rest of the questions required qualitative answers, here are the general conclusions we have made from the results (available on the questionnaire results page):

  • As the design is to be implemented as a touch-screen system, the on-screen buttons should be as large as possible. The data-input interface should be made as easy as possible to use.
  • The need for the status page in its present format was often questioned as it ‘didn’t seem to really do anything’. To one user, its existence seemed only to provide a gimmick with the thermal imaging camera. (however this may provide a useful marketing strategy). To another user, it should have been easier to understand more explicit information regarding the temperature of individual compartments, rather than a colored image. One user suggested an overview of the information displayed on this page could be used as a ‘screen saver’ giving important information (such as the day, date & time, as well as current temperatures, meal suggestions and warning notices), rather than as a specific page the user has to manually navigate to. Fahrenheit and Celsius should be available as units for displaying the temperature to the user.
  • Several users found the recipe feature pointless as they either already have a range of recipes at their disposal in books, or were experimental cooks and don’t like using them. Another user would only want it if it only gave you suggestions based on the ingredients available to them from in the fridge. It would be helpful if these ingredients could be purchased in a job-lot if required. Users would like the ability to download more recipes from the internet and arrange them using their own categories.
    “What might be nifty, […], is the ability to get it to read the recipe to you, and set timers for stuff on it (eg, sauté the onions for x minutes. Press the button when you have started.” “The onions are sautéed. Take them off the heat now.”)
  •  The most popular feature was to sort via use-by date, as users liked to know what items should be used up first. This ties in with our original questionnaires results indicating people wish to reduce the amount of food they waste.
  • Several users raised the concern that manually removing items from the fridge’s database as they are used would require an excessive amount of work on a day to day level to be feasible. They would only use this feature if an automated system were implemented to keep track of food usage for them.
    This problem was not addressed in the prototype as the problem is related to the mechanical functionality of the fridge, rather than the management software designed. Previous ideas suggested for the fridge dealt with this problem by using pressure sensors and RFID tags to keep track of what was used. RFID’s were discounted as a number of people raised concerns over the potential invasion of privacy, abuse and other security problems.
  • A large number of users expressed the desire of remote access to the fridges database. This would be beneficial for users at the supermarket, or to help them plan what they are going to eat that evening. This functionality could be provided via the mobile phone network or an internet connection using an authentication system.
    A more accurate system for tracking exact quantities of the amount of produce stored within the fridge would be beneficial (e.g., the fridge may say you still have butter (enough for 1 sandwich, but not enough to bake a cake).

From The Register and Tech Digest:

a_play_2.jpg

Miminalism is the key here – the Play has no screen and just a single joystick for control. It plays MP3, WMA and ASF files for up to 12 hours on a single charge of its built-in battery, has five equaliser pre-sets and can support up to four playlists or play through randomly in shuffle mode.

No screen and just a joystick control? How can you navigate through menus then?

The Asono Play uses different sounds to let you search through folders and choose different playing options. This really tackles the issue of lack of screen space investigated by Brewster and Cryer to an extreme level.

I’m not sure how easy this would be to use, but I guess once you got used to the different sounds and what they meant, it would be pretty cool.

I’ve noticed lately that here and there, there are useful functional object being designed that look pretty good too.

 First up is the Radiator Heat Wave:

Compared to the white boring rectangular radiators you usually find in most homes, the Heat Wave radiator is a refreshing change. It looks really nice and it’s not obvious that it’s a radiator.

Next is the Titan refillable lipstick:

The big thing about this for me is that it’s refillable – it’s always struck me as a bit crazy that there is huge amounts of packaging for most products and then once you’re done with them you throw them away. Even though some make-up containers are recycleable, it’s not always obvious where you should take them to be recycled and so most people don’t bother. Other great features are that you can put it on a keyring with the rest of your keys – so no crazy rummaging like a baglady to find it, and it’s incredibley shiny.

 Shiny in the heatproof, crushproof metal kind of way. :D

 Lastly is the Boynq Vase Speaker:

It’s a speaker that looks like a vase and connects to your laptop via usb (which also powers it). It looks nice, doesn’t take up too much space and would help solve the problem of most laptop speakers being kind of tinny.

Computer controlled firepower

The darker side of Human Computer Interaction!

With unmaned Predator drones (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RQ-1_Predator) being armed with hellfire missiles for state-sponsored assasination from the skies, now they are developing automated drone guns! By taking all the risks out of warfare for the richer countries, you have to ask yourself whether this is a wise move. The only thing that seems to stem the might of the American military invading several more middle-eastern countries is bad press they get at home when their serviceman die; take that factor out and there’s no denying that the world will become a much less safe place for countries that are not west-friendly. Not good…

http://www.newscientist.com/blog/technology/2006/02/metal-storms-deadly-rain.html

The Initial Prototype is online. Still needs more pages to be added and more graphics made for the interface.

In recent years, computer technology has hit a level at which you don’t really ‘need’ to upgrade in the same way you had to every 6-18 months (if you wanted to have a reasonable speed computer during the late 1990′s). You only need a 3 year old CPU and so much RAM in order to browse the net/word process. As a result of this decline in the need for a ‘yearly upgrade’, computer components manufacturers have been increasingly focusing their attention on performance enthusiasts most commonly found in the computer gaming community (where regular hardware updates are still mandatory in order to give you a performance edge in your gaming). The range and variety of high profit margin ‘impressive looking’ performance hardware has increased steadily, including ‘perspex windows’ so you can see the computer components inside your case, RAM modules with LCD displays spooling out performance information and UV reactive water cooling equipment (yes, many enthusiasts cool their computers with water!). Recently, one of the five leading hard disk manufacturers has attempted to ‘get in on the game’. Western Digital has released a version of their top of the line Raptor 150X with a clear window so that hardware enthusiasts can see the inner workings of their hard disk in action. This hard disk is available for £200 without the window or £240 with the window for exactly the same performance. You have to question the value of such an upgrade when you consider watching hard disk activity is barely a step above watching paint dry! Feel free to watch the video:http://www.wdraptorx.com/video/ (Caution, High Bandwidth).
Its not only hardware manufacturers who are desperately trying to increase their profit margins, software companys are also following suit. Microsoft has for a long time stated if you wish to watch HD-DVD’s on your pc, you’ll need a copy of their new ‘swanky’ operating system Windows vista. This is due to the introduction of more advanced digital rights management (DRM) techniques to try and reduce piracy. There has also been some talk or users having to buy DRM-compatible monitors (at a high cost), or their screen will not display the HD-Videos at all! As far as the software implementation goes, there is no reason why the HD-DRM interfaces cannot be programmed into the current incarnation of Windows (XP).

It seems microsoft is on an offensive to get people to upgrade windows, having recently announced the sequel to their flagship game licence Halo2 will only work on Windows Vista (despite the fact the console incarnation still works on an X-Box which uses ‘off the shelf’ 4 year old pc hardware and an simple OS).

Has microsoft shot themselves in the foot with Windows XP? I myself am of the opinion XP is the first decent enough and easy to use operating system Microsoft has ever released. As a company, of course they are within their rights to want to prompt customers to buy newer versions of ther products, although with the customer base/brand loyalty of the Windows family, they don’t have much in the form of competition from the likes of linux and MacOS! As computers and access to the internet have become an intrinsic part of so many peoples lives, is it right coroprations are still 100% in control of the software that billions of people regularly use/rely on for work..?
DRM (http://www.theinquirer.net/?article=25124)

Halo2 (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/4698072.stm)

http://forum.cogs-bham.org/viewtopic.php?p=31696#31696

the above link points to a topic on the devlopment version of the new department website. (may require membership to the cogs forum)
most students so far, seem to be objecting to the fact it is so heavily based on the main uni web site.

i think valid points include the fact that CS students rely on the CS website more than other departments. Also the new version looks nice (depending on your view of the new uni logo) but is not as functional removing most links from the front homepage. In Computer Science, unlike other departments, where students use webCT to study, students use the staff section (and througth it thier modules) to get lecture notes etc.

The new website seems to be designed to look good primerely for prospective students, and too keep with the corperate Uni image. Students do not seem to like it, however admittedly the feedback only represents a few students views. so far there has not been a single postive comment on the forum. However it is worth remembering that human beings are usually opposed to change.

I personally feel that the current website has all the links anyone would require, where as the new one (in its current form) puts graphical design before functionality. I appreicate the Uni may be putting pressure on CS, and indeed CS may want a new website to look ‘up to date’, but looking good (and i do not like the new uni logo etc.) is less important then it working for the people who use it most.

Ultimately the people who use it most are the student and staff and thier view is the most important. However the Uni (and therefore the department) cares most about new students and money througth investment. this can be seen througth the money invested in the new logo, and the fact the was adopted against the will of most students and staff. so whilst i think a design more along the old one would be better, if it is to an outside audience that the website is based, it is possible that the new one may be more jazzy and attract more investment (even if users perfer the old system)

But technology had run amok at the LG Electronics booth, where its $10,000 Web-enabled refrigerator lets you watch TV, download music from the Internet, leave messages, send and read e-mail, keep track of food supplies, order groceries online, conduct videoconferences, make two-way video phone calls and take still photographs (that’s me, smiling and waving in the photo at left). Aiieee! Stop!

Frigidaire is refining its prototype Electrolux “screen fridge,” which provides Internet access, a place to leave family messages, a way to order groceries online and a built-in video camera for personal messaging, among other things.

“The refrigerator is the center of the kitchen, and we want it to be the center of the home,” Mitchell said, a one-stop control center for the household. And there is something to be said for making maximum use of the one family appliance that is always on.

Being able to conduct video conferences and make two way video phone calls from your fridge seems a bit over the top, as does turning it into a giant camera. On the other hand, integrating tv, music and email as well as keeping track of food and being able to order it all seem fairly useful – many kitchens have radios and televisions in them already.

http://www.sptimes.com/News/051901/Homeandgarden/Gourmet_gear__Look_wh.shtml

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