April 2007


  Hearing about the PS3 Folding@Home Project got me to thinking about distributed computing. Sony is using idle cycles on PS3 machines to do medical research. This is similar to SETI@Home, a desktop screen saver that searches for extraterrestrial intelligence. (The Folding@Home Project can be run on a desktop too, I have it running in the background currently.)

  Building on the distributed screen saver concept I have a multi-phased idea:

  1. Build a very slick screen saver to be given away free.
    The amount of installs must be very high so people should feel they are getting a high-end screensaver for nothing (for now).
  2. Build a distributed platform into the screen saver so that you can sell off compute time on any machine that is running the screen saver.
    If #1 worked well, we should have a compelling distributed platform, then we have to get the compute sales up.
  3. To keep the pipeline going and keep people interested we start giving money to the users based on how much computing their computer has done. This will encourage them to leave the screensaver installed and running (perhaps even running in the background during use throughout the day). We’re basically paying them for their spare computer cycles.
  4. At some point we could have the option of disabling the distributed portion and just selling the screen saver. Of course that wouldn’t be optimal because we want a constant stream of income.

So, in the tradition of this blog. Reasons this idea won’t work:

  1. It sounds hard. 🙂
  2. Creating a compelling Screen Saver is easier said than done.
  3. Limited market – I have no idea how big the market for distributed computing is, but not many people need the immense computing power that distributed computing provides.
  4. Limited computations – Distributed computing is limited to attacking problems that can take advantage of massively parallel processing.
  5. Reduced costs of supercomputing.
  6. The type of people who are likely to install screen savers for this type of effort are likely already using Folding@home or SETI@Home. Getting them to switch would be tough, particularly if you don’t start paying from the beginning. Of course, if you’re going to start paying from the beginning you’ll need investors (who disregard the previous 5 points :))

  I love USB devices. Maybe I’m just enamored by hardware because I’m a “software guy” and don’t understand how it works. I love the Optimus mini three keyboard (although I’ve never used one). I saw a mention over on Hansleman’s blog. Too bad it’s $159 :(. 

  Not all USB devices are as cool as that. I’ve seen USB fans, USB aquariums & USB coffee warmers (actually the USB aquarium is kinda cool although I wish it were more realistic). People have even compiled entire lists of Pointless USB Gadgets.

  I happen to think that an interactive head would go into the way cool USB pile of USB gadgets. It could have a camera embedded into it as well as a small speaker. That would allow it to be hooked up to IM or skype. I would get visual feedback as well as audio. I think that would provide a much richer experience for the user. I thought this flower pot (that perks up when your buddy comes on IM) was USB, but apparently it’s wireless. That would be even cooler, but probably increase the cost significantly. The interactive head is basically an extension of the flower pot. Not only would the head “wake up” when my buddy came online, but my friends could speak to me vicariously through the head.

  My wife was mentioning that she wished she could make a quick stop on the way home, but with two kids in car seats, the prospect of getting them out and into any store is not “quick”. Some stores such as Fred Meyer provide a child care service where you can drop off your kids while you shop. That’s great for medium to long trips, but I think they should expand their service to accomodate the run in, run out stop.

  In the old days, you’d just lock the car and go quick, but with horror stories like this casino parking lot or this university parking lot I feel guilty refilling my soda mug while the kids are in the car.

  That led me to Valet Babysitting. You would pull up to the store, perhaps a specific set of parking spaces which would indicate your desire for the extra service. A qualified childcare professional would meet you at your car, hand you a 2-way radio for use in emergency, and take a seat in your car. You go into the store for a short trip, and the babysitter makes sure your kids are safe. If it was enough of a draw they wouldn’t even have to charge for it, but I know many a mommy that wouldn’t mind having a mark-up on their purchase based on how long they had taken in the store.

  Sitting around a table this evening (playing a game of Nuclear War) Ken, Samuel and I were discussing Second Life “great ideas”. They both enjoy hunting so after I convinced Samuel that the logging industry wasn’t likely to make a big splash in Second Life the topic turned to Second Life Hunting.

  If a person had enough land in Second Life they could create animals that would run away from people (but stay on the property). Then people could be charged to hunt. People pay large sums of money in RL (Real Life) to go on safaris. They would likely be willing to pay a small fee in SL for a similar experience. The fee could be based on time hunting, or could be based on per kill. Larger prices for less populated (and smarter) animals.

  After a person has killed an animal they could opt for a small fee to have the animal mounted, thus another Second Life occupation, Second Life Taxidermy. Along with the stuffed animal, they could have a certificate of authenticity that showed date/time of kill as well as location and various other hunt details.

  I did a quick google and was surprised to find no mentions of anything like this. Of course I haven’t spent enough time in SL to know for sure, but it sounds like the most promising SL great idea yet. Way to go Samuel and Ken!

  This idea is actually my wife’s but it meets the spirit of the blog so I’ll reproduce it here.

  Her idea is to provide a service where customers can call a toll-free number and dictate their e-mail messages. After speaking their message the automated system would “type” out their message and send it to the desired recipients. The customer could set up an address list in advance to avoid having to speak out awkward email addresses letter by letter.

  I’ve heard of a service that would allow you to send audio files recorded over the phone as attachments to emails. However, I haven’t heard anything about it recently. 

  I would say the most likely reasons that this won’t work are:

  1. Speech to text software isn’t that great and paying customers would get frustrated with being misunderstood. (some people say Microsoft Vista is getting better at speech recognition, but others aren’t as impressed)
  2. Someone else is likely already doing it.

  Either way, it’s still a good idea. Way to go honey!

Update: I did a quick google for dictate email and found www.copytalk.com and www.myjotter.com without much effort. They appear to do exactly what my wife was describing (plus more).  I know I could have done that search before I posted the original, but that would spoil the fun :).

  This idea is completely half-baked, but that’s how most of my ideas are. I’m considering an idea for which I have no domain knowledge, but again, that’s how most of my ideas are :).

  I was helping a friend move today and realized that in Second Life people probably have a need to move from time to time (need is probably too strong, but Second Life isn’t really a need in the first place is it?). Anyway, I assume that like in real life people decide that they don’t like their neighbors, or just want a bigger place. It’s probably a hassle to move their stuff from one place to another. People would likely be willing to pay a small fee to have their stuff moved into their new digs.

  I figure there has to be some way to enumerate people’s belongings programmatically so instead of physical movement, or a time consuming process of collecting each thing and putting it in a box I could “magically” move everything from one house to another given some small amount of information.

  Now, let’s figure out why this won’t work:

  1. I have only spent a few minutes total in Second Life so I don’t have much idea of how things really work in there.
  2. It’s a complete guess that you can programmatically enumerate belongings. If that isn’t the case, then this could be an arduous (read, not fun) task.
  3. Linden Labs (Second Life authors) may already have a feature that does this for you. I doubt it, but it’s possible.
  4. People may not really ever move in Second Life (this doesn’t seem likely)
  5. If it’s that easy to write the programs then lots of people will do it and give it away for free (it only takes one open sourcer to make this business model fall flat).

  On the other hand that’s why I started this blog. I have (what I consider to be) these great ideas all the time. They don’t all have to be gold mines, just one :). Of course, I would actually have to do some investigation into it to know which of the above items is true, but for now I’m happy with knowing that I have a great idea (that will never work).

  Probably the most interesting thing about this concept is the realization that “blue collar” jobs in Second Life aren’t hard work. They may be tedious, but if they can be automated that changes the game (err, life) entirely.

Update: I just found probably the biggest problem with this great idea. It came when I was reading through the Terms and Service for Second Life. This is in section 1.4 of the terms of Service:
            You agree that Linden Lab has the absolute right to manage, regulate, control, modify and/or eliminate such Currency as it sees fit in its sole discretion, in any general or specific case, and that Linden Lab will have no liability to you based on its exercise of such right. 
  I don’t know about you, but I’m not very comfortable basing a business plan on Linden Labs current squishy statements about my ability to convert Linden $ into real $. I’m actually very surprised that I’ve never read about that clause in any of the mainstream articles I’ve read about Second Life.

While transfering some money into my ING Direct savings account I noticed a new account type called Electric Orange. It’s an online checking account that earns interest. I don’t think I’ll make a million bucks on it, but it is an easy way to earn 4.0% or more a year. That’s roughly 4.0% more than I’m currently earning on my checking account :).

 They provide you with:

  • A debit card (mastercard) for purchases
  • Free ATM usage on any Allpoint(tm) Network machine (there were dozens nearby for me although you are limited to the Allpoint logo’d machines)
  • Something they call electric checks. This is something I’d like to try. You enter the recipients info and it sends them an email. They check the email and then get the money transferred directly to their account.
  • Overdraft protection (no big fees, but it does charge you interest)

The one thing I can’t figure out is regular old checks. The site mentions “online bill pay”, but they also call it a “paperless checking account”. That sounds cool and all, but what do I do when my water bill comes in the mail? Can I send a regular old paper (eek) check to them somehow? Or do we expect the local municipalities to go check their email to receive an electric deposit?

btw, I’m not affiliated with ING Direct in any way other than the fact that I use their services. I’ve used their savings account for several years now and love how easy it is (and it’s a pretty good rate). I’ve also tried their CDs which you can buy in very small quantities. I even got a home equity line of credit on my previous home (the entire home equity line was secured online and on the phone).

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