Some of the better pieces I write are not usually initially thought as rants or rambles and more as a normal reply to a message. In my current work I have been blessed with several peers (and one in particular) that are constantly feeding my too-easy-to-trigger rant-buttons. Sometimes I realize I have started yet another kilometric message after I hit the «Send» button and appreciate the recipients being patient with them. This is one such exchange. It was spawned by an article in that talked about how, in 50 years, the world will be ruled by robots (humanoid robots, no less).

—–Original Messages—–
From: Eduo [mailto:email suppressed]

Sent: Wednesday, July 30, 2003 2:56 PM
To: Bob [mailto:email suppressed]
Subject: Food for thought

(admittedly, some of the thoughts you’d be feeding would be cool, sci-fi ones, but I wouldn’t say that out loud, in fear of sounding pro-mech or anti-hum, to coin two phrases)


From: Bob [mailto:email suppressed]
Sent: Wednesday, July 30, 2003 3:25 PM
To: Eduo [mailto:email suppressed]
Subject: RE: Food for thought

I will probably be dead or at least retired by the dates he mentions, so I’m not quite as worried as I would be if I were younger. What I worry most about is that the upcoming generations will be able to provide me what I need when I’m old and feeble. :)

History has been full of people being overly pessimistic (as well as overly optimistic) about the effect of technological changes on society. I’m sure people were predicting gloom and doom as the Industrial Revolution got really going. What can happen is that as some types of jobs are eliminated other new ones are created.
(In italics above are the two messages preceding my rant below)

—–Original Message—–
From: Eduo [mailto:email suppressed]
Sent: Wednesday, July 30, 2003 4:05 PM
To: Bob [mailto:email suppressed]

Subject: Food for thought

Gloom and Doom may mean different things to different people. Back when the industrial revolution hit, those not willing to do anything else than what had done for twenty years were probably affected.

I see is as evolution, tho’. Nature’s selection of the fittest has adapted to new times, I guess, and «fittest» means other than having good birthing hips, being able to munch on stale meat instead of dying of food poisoning or having the longest hair to be pulled by horny cavemen (if we believe in cartoons).

I was thinking of sending an e-mail on my thoughts to this person, thinking of making both a «pro» and a «against» cases for his theories, the intent being that it’s easy to rationalize any future development. You don’t have anything to lose, if you’re not correct nobody will remember but if you are you’ll be recognized as a visionary.

I do believe that more and more things will be automated, because that is nothing new, it’s been an ongoing trend for years now and doesn’t look like it’s going to stop. I don’t believe humanoid robots would be used for anything else other than making people comfortable with non-humans being around. I don’t believe we would ever see robotic waiters in a fast-food joint for anything other than hipness or shock value, but I do believe you’d be able to go to the drive-in, punch what you want and have it waiting in a (n unmanned) window further down the lane. This to me makes sense. Having a robotic person doing the sale doesn’t. I don’t believe the two ends of the spectrum for food places (the mon’n pop coffee shop or the ultraexpensive french restaurants, for example) will ever disappear any more than I believe printed, non-computer-dependant books will be popular in the next twenty years (I do believe alternatives could crop up, like intelligent paper/ink or sintehtic replacements for wood pulp).

Also, there’s the fact that he fails to acknowledge 4/5ths of the world, where having someone to do the cleaning for you costs 10 bucks a day (that’s Mexico, and it’s expensive compared to India or South Africa or China), which means that a 10K robot would take 3 years to pay itself for the same work (more if, like me, you have someone come over twice a week instead of daily).

I believe that we’re going to see more proliferation of small, specific appliances, like we currently have. We like tools but we like to feel we control them. Like in Physically control them. An Aibo pet-dog is cute but most importantly is small and manageable, a roomba vacuum cleaner is a robot that vacuums the house, but I bet it wouldn’t be nearly as popular if it was the size of Robbie, the Robot. We like our washing machines, dishwashers, dryers, automatic cruise control in the car and autopilots in planes, home alarm systems and tie racks for the closets and they are exactly that, specialized robots. I feel appliances like Roomba would crop up more and more and instead of having a humanoid robot (which while being admittedly able to fit in a humanoid environment is far from being a perfect or even somewhat optimal shape). By the time we’re completely at ease among technology and robotics we won’t mind much them not being humanoid, in the same way we don’t expect a dishwasher machine to look like it’s rubbing plates and forks.

Again, all of this is speculation and while it’d be fun to see how it turns out being optimistic or pessimistic about it is as pointless as deciding which of them is worth investing in the future. Most of the technology leaps and changes in lifestyle were unexpected and unplanned, usually being a side effect of other intents (astronauts don’t like plain water, so we have Tang; two guys want to get as far from Dayton as possible, so we have supersonic planes now; somebody messes up a project for a new kind of glue and we can paste little yellow notes in a monitor; etc.) that trying to predict is like trying to hit a bullseye with a shotgun in a dark room while being blindfolded, upside down, hanging from a ceiling fan and being tickled… with boxing gloves: A fun exercise but of little actual value other than see how it turns out.

I’d keep on typing, seems kind of effortless today for some reason, but I better stop, as by now your eyes must be kind of glazed and fixed in some point between the glass and your nose, thumbing the page down button just to get to that blissful part where the window is blank..:)

Today, for the Nth time the topic in MacSlash has switched to GPS programs in OSX (or the lack thereof). For some weird reason I decided to reply to a post there and my comment ended up covering several things of the GPS status and future on the Mac. Not interesting, not groundbreak but hell, it’s not as if someone reads this anyway. You can find the actual post in MacSlash here and the original post is here and the MacSlash article sits here. The comment here is annotated and included URLs I was too lazy to include in the MacSlash post.

NOTE: This is one of the most exceptionally badly-written pieces I have made in a LONG time. It wanders between subjects, implies too much, leaves even more to the reader and has some run-on sentences in there that even Henry Miller would envy.

Text from Original post: GPSdrive works perfectly. you can fink it today.
«Perfect» is a little strong. «Acceptably» might be more accurate.

(Regarding GPSDrive)
In OSX there are conflicts with access to the GPS devices if you use Serial adapters, you have to know a little more than just the basics to set it up, runs under GTK under X11, so it doesn’t look or behave like a mac application (nor can it properly interact with other applications), has some problems with scaling of the maps downloaded, is a huge PITA to calibrate maps and they never are correct and buttons don’t work properly out-of-the-compile-box. It also doesn’t handle waypoints and routes adequately and doesn’t give any control to the user on zoom levels nor is it’s «moving map» feature worth a damn.

I use it and love it, by the way, but to each his own, and GPSDrive is no Street Atlas and while you will enjoy it if you download and use it without prejudice, you might not like it if you’re expecting a free Street Atlas.

Also, GPSDrive supports speech in Linux and Linux alone, in case that was a selling point. It’s Airport (WiFi, 802.11b, etc.) support (for wardriving) is pretty complicated and requires Kismet, which doesn’t work properly in OSX and doesn’t work with Airport Extreme at all.

Also, GPSDrive (and any other independent GPS program for that matter) only does basic GPS mapping, no street navigation of any sort. This is not a matter of, as some poster put it there, «just making it»; for as many OSX might there be that would use it you need to pay some HEFTY licenses to have a country’s navigation maps (street level with street numbers and street directions and UPDATED). So you get the possible public for such a program to the mac user in a specific country (that is, a fraction of the current 3% or so of computer users that currently run Macintosh OSes, of which 50% or less use OSX and of which less than 5% use or would pay to use GPS).

A GPS program is a great thing, but Apple needs to do something (and I say Apple because they are the ones with less to risk when releasing new functionality or programs for OSX) to revolutionize GPS usage in OSX. I have in the past considered (especially now that even the Woz is into GPS) that Apple should make an iMap or i’Mhere or iPlace or whatnot that gives OSX the support it requires for GPS programs to be easily developed. What would this be?

1.-GPSd-like daemon that supports NMEA and Garmin, that supports transfer of routes, waypoints, tracks, maps and anything else a modern GPS receiver might understand. Programs would be able to call this through the OS (something gpsd has, to some extent -although it hasn’t been updated in ages- done for Unix systems)

2.-A simple map program that connects and downloads maps (heck, use Sherlock and give it a much-needed boost with that, tie it up with the current search for movie theaters or addresses) by striking a deal with Mappoint or Mapblast or Mapquest (selecting a service that supports several countries would be a bonus, although Expedia’s support of satellite photos is COOL).

2.1.-Even better would be for Apple to purchase street-level maps of countries it has presence in (for example, those for which Web Apple Stores exist), but it’s even more unlikely than the rest of my already-too-long post.

3.-Number 2 could also include the ability for OSX to be able to pull driving information from said services and to pull maps freely without limitation (see my NOTE below). Such an agreement would allow a program in OSX to download maps freely (or up to a specific «X» amount based on the .mac account)

4.-If the connections were easy other developers would find it easier to make native programs for Map location and GPS support (instead of half-baked OSX programs, VPC solutions or Classic applications) in the same way that now lots of programs can take advantage of the addressbook or iCal or iTunes.

5.-This would bring Apple into a realm not yet touched by Windows (GPS support natively implemented into the OS) and would also make OSX inherently compatible with WOZ’s new venture (GPS tracking devices for people and things) where a Powerbook could work as a soft-client behaving in the same way their current chips are supposed to behave in the future (Airport/WiFi and GPS together) or as a sort of central-node for such a network.

As you can see I would REALLY want something like this to happen and have even thought on doing so myself, but the learning curve to Cocoa from scratch is a hard and unforgiving path, and my knees are already scrapped. The kind of application I would make and have envisioned would look like one of the iApps and would NOT be like MacGPSPro or GPSy, which with all the greatness they have and hard work put into them, are uncanningly difficult to use and understand and have a learning curve that is almost surreal. It would look like a simple program, yet provide a lot of behind-the-scenes functionality (like currently AddressBook does), and it would also meld naturally with .mac technologies and with the Digital Hub direction of Apple.

I will stop now. Thank you. Mod me down accordingly, so others don’t have to see all this drivel..:)


NOTE: A problem with most independant GPS programs is that they rely in Map Web Pages which are always trying to limit the access to them, as direct download of the maps means a possible loss of revenue when ads are skipped. This also means batch-downloading of maps (the only reasonable function of internet downloading of maps for on-the-road GPS machines, as you can’t easily connect when hiking to download a new map) has made several servers in the past change their formats and protocols (for them is a no-win situation, as they serve maps, waste tons of bandwidth and processor-cycles yet receive no input at all by use of ads or the connections for hotels and other amenities)

NOTE2: Obviously the main problem with GPS is that it doesn’t work indoors easily, which limits it’s usefulness when considering its integration with a desktop OS like OSX, although alternatives could exist (Create a hardware wireless antenna that connects through Airport or Bluetooth, create a PDA with GPS support, officially support a third-party PDA like Palm, etc.)