Keith Lofstrom's Things the World Needs

Computers and Linux

Translator to/from Quickbooks. It's my data, dammit!

Data file description language. Most programs transform data from one description to another. With a detailed description language, one could (1) automatically generate programs (2) automatically pipe programs together. BNF with teeth. XML without the data.

Linux System Describer. Crawls the system, builds a collection of web pages describing the machine and what the config files do. May use a system of secure outbound web links to further description. Uses data description language to emit detailed description web pages.

Linux/Win4Lin Screen Scraper. Run a windows app, keep track of what it does. In combination with a data file differencer. So ordinary people can capture what their Windows programs do, and programmers can test their Linux equivalents against live operation.

Procedure test tools. Why do we have expensive equipment to test hardware, while software is tested by compiling with the flags off? "Correct by inspection" sucks. Test the hell out of routines, perhaps by exhaustively testing inputs, flag their weaknesses, and include the weakness description in higher level design.

Linux voice editor. This is the first step in a speech recognition and translation system. Imagine an illiterate person in a third world country with a simple linux system with headphones and a microphone. They want to dictate a letter to send out via email to the US, perhaps as part of some startup commercial activity. This would be a dictating and editing tool, working with a few mouse commands and representing unit words and perhaps sentences on the screen graphically. The software probably can't make sense of the words, or even determine what any given word means, but it can break the speech up into word or syllable boundaries so the units can be moved around, replaced, added or deleted and otherwise edited. The editor would have a "skin" such that different cultures or types of users could control and visualize words in a customized way. At one end, a Laotian farmer could manipulate the system to get weather reports out of the news. At the other end, a US doctor could use it for preparing dictations for transcription to text, typing in words on top of the speech representation graphics.


Consumer reports by engineers. Anybody can count knobs. How well is it built, how long will it last?

Mattress Reviews and Comparisons. Superhyped market, fragmented by renaming the same product. What works and what is durable?

A Nerd's Lands End. They know your height and weight and overall tastes. They send you numbered clothing and tell you when to throw out the old stuff.

Heated Bathtubs

Electrically driven long polymer light emitters. Like molecular eximer lasers (which are very efficient). Replace light bulbs and fluorescents, save energy and cooling.

Electronically focusable glasses.

In-home RFID. In forty years, we will all be demented. Where's my glasses?

Replace tobacco. There has got to be a better way to deliver ALL the perceived pleasures of smoking, and more, with fewer health and safety costs. Imagine a little "chemical boiler" stick containing a small reservoir of active chemicals and propellant, and a MEMS nebulizer. A potential trillion-dollar opportunity.

Distributed symphony. The United States is about 4000Km across, which is about 25msec at the speed of light in optical fiber. This is the same time it takes for sound to propagate 8 meters. This suggests that a symphony could be constructed, with individual players scattered all over the country, assuming some conductor+score mechanism could be worked out, along with low-latency switching connecting the players. This may be possible with the right kind of connection to the 'net.

Automobile sound library. What's that funny sound coming from my '91 Subaru? Capture failure sounds and put them on the web.

Automobile acoustic sonar. Put half a dozen microphones on an engine; given some long sound samples, and a speed-of-sound delay of around 5 millimeters per microsecond in metal, and an acoustic model of the engine, it should be possible to locate fairly precisely where a sound is coming from.

Helping Others

Education/Advertising trailers for the third world. LCD projectors, secure computer, satellite links. Americans can teach what they know to others around the world, without leaving home.

"Buddy" Like a cell phone, with a single button and perhaps a little video camera. A PDA for the blind, illiterate, retarded. Uses cell phone system to connect to advice from the mentally complete, perhaps in India or elsewhere. Contains scheduler, task list, instructions for doing things. Might contain pill dispenser.


Builtin Selftest with power line interface. Bring your dead TV in to a booth at Seven-Eleven, plug it in, have it remotely diagnosed. Scan your credit card, talk with a technician, and the appropriate repair material and instructions sent to you.

High compliance output bidirectional analog current source chip. Open loop output, but precision and linear. Suitable for pin drivers, high-bandwidth analog drivers. A complementary Wilson in a chip.


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last revision September 8, 2004