Tin Can Robot

A New Car UI

Here’s a concept design by Matthaeus Krenn about how to use a touchscreen in an automobile. To replace the tactile feedback you would normally get from knobs and switches, Krenn suggests changing the controls of the touchscreen based on finger gestures: two fingers controls volume; three fingers changes the audio source; four fingers control the temperature. There’s an additional set of controls when your fingers are spread wider. It looks to me like the design would work best with a large touchscreen (like on a Tesla).

Purple Hearts

Neat fact from Neatorama about the current batch of Purple Hearts being rewarded in the field:

During World War II, nearly 500,000 Purple Heart medals were manufactured in anticipation of the estimated casualties resulting from the planned Allied invasion of Japan. To the present date, total combined American military casualties of the sixty-five years following the end of World War II—including the Korean and Vietnam Wars—have not exceeded that number. In 2003, there remained 120,000 Purple Heart medals in stock. The existing surplus allowed combat units in Iraq and Afghanistan to keep Purple Hearts on-hand for immediate award to soldiers wounded in the field.

Debugging the A350

In this day and age, most airline jets are a massively complicated bundle of multiple hardware and software systems, built by different subcontractors that must all work together flawlessly. How do you reduce the risk and (more importantly) the cost of testing a jet?

As with any new plane, the early design phases were riddled with uncertainty. Would the materials be light enough and strong enough? Would the components perform as Airbus desired? Would parts fit together? Would it fly the way simulations predicted? To produce a working aircraft, Airbus had to systematically eliminate those risks using a process it calls a “testing pyramid.” The fat end of the pyramid represents the beginning, when everything is unknown. By testing materials, then components, then systems, then the aircraft as a whole, ever-greater levels of complexity can be tamed. “The idea is to answer the big questions early and the little questions later,” says Stefan Schaffrath, Airbus’s vice president for media relations.


This is a great article by Peter Bright at Ars Technica that explains why any company would be foolish to fork Android. More significantly, it highlights the difference between Android Open Source Platform (AOSP), which is open source, and Google Mobile Services (GMS), which is not.

The split between AOSP and GMS is not constant, either. Google has slowly been migrating more and more functionality to GMS. For example, in the latest Nexus 5, the core phone user interface—the thing that you use to launch apps and show icons—has been rolled into the GMS Search app.

Similarly, APIs have made the move. AOSP contains a location API, but GMS contains a newer, better one, with additional features. Google encourages developers to use the GMS API, and the AOSP Location API mostly dates back to Android 1.0, and hasn’t seen any substantial changes since Android 1.5. The result is that many third-party applications are not merely “Android” applications: they’re GMS applications, and won’t run without the proprietary, non-open Google software.

It’s possible to only use AOSP and try to fill in the missing GMS apps on your own, but you’d never keep pace with the GMS development and you wouldn’t be able to use any third-party applications that use any GMS API features.

The Secrets of Caltech

Caltech is considered the world’s number one university — but it is tiny. The school faculty only numbers 300 and only has 1204 graduate students and 977 undergraduates. The incoming freshman class is only 249 students. So how did it manage to achieve it’s success compared to schools like MIT, which has over 1000 faculty professors? The key is how it’s managed to take advantage of its smaller size:

If Caltech’s size demands that its faculty work across traditional disciplinary boundaries to survive, it also makes such interaction exceptionally easy and natural.

While it may sound like a cliché, at Caltech exciting interdisciplinary ideas really are generated over a cup of coffee in the campus cafe, according to faculty.