Ideas and Opinions

Friday, October 28, 2005

Home Beyond Future

From Caves of the dark jungle to Sky scrapers of the concrete jungle man has come a long way in the dwelling cult. At every stage of development man tries to accommodate the maximum possible features until he reaches a point where he cannot do without any new invention. Caves became huts, huts became houses and houses became palaces and big buildings. Even today, for a normal residential house, man’s basic thinking has not varied much in terms of home requirements - a place to live, a place to cook or store his food, a place to keep all his belongings and a comfortable place to rest. These basic necessities will in fact remain the same until human civilization exists. Millions of years have passed and man has been using all naturally available elements to create artificial things for his material needs, especially in the past millennium with rapid development in science and technology he has found ways to produce things at low cost and sell it at affordable prices to his human counterparts. The result was increased consumption of non-renewable energy sources causing a rise in greenhouse gas and hindering the carbon-silicon cycle. The greenhouse gas which has kept the world warm all these years will elevate the temperature to much hotter levels resulting in abrupt climatic changes and challenge the very existence of human. With all due considerations to preserve our environment, the house of the future will also try to accommodate various aspects of changing human lifestyle. Necessity and desire will lead to infusion of technological advances in an ordinary home.

At the dawn of 21st century, a technologically advancing world is challenged with problems to tackle from Mother Nature. The century will see an evolution of gadgets which are environment friendly. Oil driven machineries will be replaced by machines powered by Electricity or hydrogen. Electricity will only be produced from sources like Nuclear, Wind, Solar and water. The building materials will be far more advanced with better acoustics, sound proofing and well insulated which will bring down energy leakage. The property of constant temperature of Earth’s crust will be used to maintain the temperature of the home instead of using power consuming, polluting and costlier Air condition equipments/heaters. Pre-manufactured concrete along with Robotic machines will help builders complete the building work in a matter of few weeks. How will our home look like in the future?

One of the challenges of human settlement in the future will be space. With an increasing population, Engineering will focus on packing more number of things for the demanding lifestyle in a square foot of area. LCD and plasma TVs are less space consuming that will soon attain economies of scale and CRT Televisions will become a history. As LCD TVs become common, another interesting arrangement of a future living room could be a Holographic Projection TVs (HPTV), which can project the television broadcast from a small device from the ceiling. The arrangement can be such that the center of the living room has this HPTV which will be surrounded by furniture. Audiences seated at any corner in the room will have a 3D visual of the broadcast at the centre of the living room. Programmes and footages in the old 2D technology will be projected flat and one should still be able to watch it from any corner. The next advancement that can be thought of is the acoustics and the sound system. I recently saw a program on the Discovery science channel where a new form of speakers was demonstrated. It was a round metal disc of the size of a palm, couple of inches thick, which can be attached to the wall. The reverberations created by the device cause the solid surface of the wall to turn into a speaker. This will be an amazing technology in the future. A sound system that can produce pristine music that doesn’t need any space consideration and wiring requirements combined with a HPTV will be the height of audio visual experience in the future.

With a busy lifestyle centered on business lunches, fast foods, ready to eat, frozen pre-cooked stuff, our kitchen is more likely to attain even more sophistication to handle this lifestyle. Now unless the person has a passion and time to cook it is more likely that the food that we would eat will be one of the mentioned above. But besides all these stuff I would like to imagine a futuristic kitchen that is fully automated, operated by robots. Not the humanoid kind of Robots but just a normal industrial type robot arm (Actuator) with specific degrees of freedom. The gas stove will be surrounded by actuators which will do the job of cooking the food. The ingredients will be served to the arms from the pantry via a conveyer belt or a pipeline by another set of actuators. The only work that we will need to do is to program the recipe using a GUI application in our home computer, send it to robotic system and store the ingredients in proper places which the robotic systems can identify. This kind of arrangement will look more like the Weasley’s house in the Harry potter story. The Automatic kitchen system will also keep track of the stock of ingredients available in the pantry and when the levels diminish to threshold defined by us, it would simply place a buy order on the internet store for all the things that are needed. If technology can grow to provide us such a miniature robotic kitchen system at affordable prices, I would love to write the software which converts the recipes from the GUI application to instructions for the actuators and along with the whole inventory control system. Perhaps, a simpler and less futuristic arrangement without the robots can be thought off with a programmable microwave oven. You can put all your ingredients to cook in a vessel and place it inside the microwave; put a timer to start cooking at 7 PM for dinner, while you leave for work in the morning. The microwave will act as a refrigerator in the day time to preserve it until 7 PM and after that it will start increasing its temperature and cook the food and keep it warm till you eat it. A Robotic kitchen is more exciting and lot of work for developers than a simpler timer based microwave kitchen.

Another important development in the coming years for a future home will be communication. Man has come a long way in this from the days of arrows and pigeons to cell phones of these days. Wireless communication will be the trend and the business in wired phones will soon attain saturation and worst could be completely replaced by wireless technology in the far future. Integration of video conferencing in a cell phone will also be a noteworthy development that we can see in this area soon. But apart from communicating to other people in the most advanced way that can be thought off, is there any other use for this? Cell phone can be as well used as a remote control for your devices in your home. You will no longer need to be physically present at home to actually set off something. You can simply use your phone, access your communication menu, choose the device you want to speak to and just send commands either by typing it or by speaking words on to it. Like I said in my earlier article (Storage Evolution), this information can be transmitted to a centralized system which will parse and convert the commands to actions and send it to that relevant device. For example, you can call your vacuum cleaner and ask him (I chose to personify a non living thing for its sensory ability to listen to human’s voice and recognize the same) to clean the kitchen and he would do the same like a faithful servant. This can work for any device present in the house that can be programmed to be interfaced with the centralized communication device. The power of control will be in the palm of your hands wherever you go.

With all such advances, humans should only use them in situations of necessity and to improve the lifestyle with possibilities rather than as a daily affair. This can reduce the unnecessary evolutionary impacts on having to deviate too much from nature. Nevertheless, a new gadget at home will always make it interesting and let us hope that we are not too far in getting an advanced system setup in our future home during our lifetime.

Monday, October 17, 2005

T

Feeling a terrible pain on the back of his neck, he looks around completely perplexed. He was standing on a green lawn, which looked like one of those tennis courts at Wimbledon. His body was a little wet even though the air was dry and the evening was bright. His brain was going through a sort of nervous battle and he wasn’t able to hold on to a single thought. Remembering nothing as chaos filled his brain, he could only see a small cottage in front of him. He decided to go into the cottage, even though his brain was neither able to make that decision nor identify if he could recognize having seen it before. In spite of lot of stress and confusion he enters the cottage. He was able to sense that he has to knock the door if it was locked; it was locked and so he was forced to knock. He looked around the lawn as he was waiting for someone to open it. A familiar row of yellow rose caught his eyes and he could remember seeing it somewhere. The sight of the same array of yellow flowers stretching long alongside the cottage where at one point it gets hidden by the cottage itself and from where a distant mountain begins it slope looked as much a déjà vu for him. But he was under too much stress that he wasn’t able to think beyond the fact that it’s something familiar.

The creak of the door was heard as an old man appeared before him. He was probably in his early 60’s wearing round spectacles, a white apron covering his shirt and jeans. His hair was completely white, long and uncombed and his face was covered with a thick beard and moustache. Before he could say anything, the old man exclaimed, “Swami! Nice to see you. What made you come 10 minutes early? Did you skip your date with Ramya?”
Confused by the old man’s statement of appropriateness of his presence in that place he asked, “Excuse me sir! I am feeling a little confused and my brain is a little chaotic, I am not able to think if I know you ..”
“Oh! Calling me sir, Looks like some heavy lightning struck your head, get in first”. The old man lets him in and asks him to follow.
“Sir! I am not sure why I am here”, he said walking behind the old man. He saw a dusty living room with a few jute chairs, an old television set in the corner and few magazines
on the desk. One of them had the old man’s face on the cover, but the words were hidden by some newspapers over it.
“Swami!”, said the old man stopping at the entrance of another room, “What happened to you, are you all right?”
“Sir! I am confused. Do I really know you? Do I really know this place?”
“God knows what struck you! You know me. I am Dr. Raman. You are my student. I had asked you to come today and that’s why you are here!”
“Strange! I remember my name and remember seeing few things around here but nothing more! Facts look unaligned, I am unable to recall a lot of things.”
“That’s Selective Amnesia. My amnikit system should make you all right. But we don’t have time for that now. Come on in, let’s get that going.” Dr. Raman hurried into a room.
Though he was bewildered by swami’s attitude, he hurried to what he wanted to do that evening.
“What!” said Swami following Raman.
“We are all set swami! My T is ready! We can do the test in few more minutes”
Swami looked puzzled. All he can see was a hazily lit room with lots of instruments and pieces of junks all around.
There was a shelf of books around the corner and a table in front had few books lying around open. Another table was set close to a small window with some setup of mirror and lenses and it was grabbing the setting sun’s light into some weird looking container, with a rotating spindle on its back. He could not picture and comprehend any more objects other than these.
Swami was looking at Raman puzzled as he asked, “Your T?”
“Yes, I had told you”.
Raman paused for a moment. As he saw outside through the window, the sun was setting fast and clouds assisting in diminishing the amount of sunlight gradually. His eyes were fixed onto the container collecting sunlight. The spindle fan on the back of the container started to slowdown rapidly. The clouds became denser and rain started to pour down in a few seconds. Raman didn’t speak for a minute. Swami was even more confused by Raman’s long silence.
“Sir!” called Swami.
Raman turned around and looked at Swami. He then moved towards a corner where there was a monitor running a lot of numbers. Looking at it for a few seconds he turned to
Swami, “We need just a few more photons”
As he finished speaking, he heard a loud knock at the door.
“Doc! Doc!” cried a voice from behind the door.
Raman went to the door and didn’t know he was about to be astonished.
“Hey Doc! I am sorry; I got caught up with Ramya’s Dad! Had to convince him about our affair. I came running. Gosh! I got drenched in the rain. Got a towel. Lets start the
Teleportation Doc! The sun is dying down” said the person. The person was none other than Swami himself. Raman was perplexed to see a second Swami.
Meanwhile, the other Swami in the laboratory came out and was shocked to see a look alike of him.
The Swami at the door, looking at Swami inside, bewildered for a moment, turned to Raman.
“What’s up Doc? What did you do with T? How did you clone me?”
“I didn’t. The experiment is done”; said Raman.
“What do you mean? I don’t understand! You made it work
without me?” said the Swami at the door.
“My T has done its job, but hasn’t teleported you. It has got you few minutes to the past and caused you a nervous breakdown”
“Let’s do it again then”
“We need more photons! With this I can only just manage to make it work. It is too risky, I may not able to capture your entire molecular structure, It can cause you nervous breakdown”.
“Nervous breakdown!!... Wait a minute … what time are we supposed to start this experiment? I mean doc, if you are thinking what I am thinking”
“Swami, I think you are thinking exactly what I am thinking!”
Raman turns towards Swami inside and says “why don’t you get into the red glass chamber in that corner!” pointing towards a 6 feet tall glass chamber which looked like an old telephone booth.
The First Swami gets into the glass booth and Raman activates the 1 minute countdown trigger.
“It was supposed to rain, but I think we braved to conduct the experiment with this risk …” said Dr. Raman
“and I was transported back a few minutes instead of being teleported to the green glass chamber” said Swami
“and the transported Swami appeared at my door at this alternate timeline, If only I send him back to his timeline, he would exists there!” said Dr. Raman.

They both watch the last few seconds tick by on the timer. The clock goes zero, the red glass chamber is illuminated powerfully and the First Swami disappears as they hoped that he would get back to his original time ...

Thursday, October 06, 2005

BACK TO THE PAST II

Continued from Part I ...

The summer holidays of the same year, I got interested in a new hobby, a chance to learn something ....

I was introduced to a cool new toy by my friend during that summer – a lens. He showed me how you can burn paper, match and all sort of stuff by focussing the sunlight on it. I was amazed by that and got my own lens from a general stores. As i was playing with it my father watched that and he asked me to come inside and he wanted to show me another cool thing. He placed a mirror on the kitchen floor where we got sunlight from the window and projected it on the wall. He then cut a piece of polythene paper from Aavin milk packet and put on the path of the light. Next, he put the lens on the path after the polythene piece and I just witnessed a phenomenon – a magnified image of the Aavin writings looking just like the slides they show in theatres. I just learnt how to project a movie and how a lens works to do that. The next thing i did was I ran to the roadside shop across the main road and bought a pack of movie films and rushed back. I did the same thing my father did but with the films that i bought and enjoyed watching my new source entertainment for a long time. I learnt how i have to position the film inverted so that i get the correct projection after the lens magnifies and focusses the image.

The next step, I needed some improvements to do to my new toy. First thing was the lens was not so clear since it was of low quality and small focal length. The picture size had to be small for getting a clear magnification, So i asked my father if he can get me a better lens and guess what i got a fine quality magnifying lens with steel rim and handle. I ran a trial with that and the picture came out amazing. The magnification was as big as HDTV and picture was clear and sharp. I then started assembling everything so it would look like a still projector. I took off some notebook covers and cut a rectangular hole on two of them. I made one with a slot to hold the film and on the other I stuck the lens using a tape so i don't have to hold it by hand. I closed the door and shut the windows and put a blanket on top and darkened the entire room. I got a clean white veshti from the godrej bero and hung it on the wall to form a screen. Then finally i projected the film on the clean white screen and voila it was my first still projector at work. It was a great feeling to do something like this and after that i kept improvising my new devices. I had a box to hold all the films and i had to simply place the films in front of the lens to get the picture. I was enjoying it to my fullest. I run my own show to my dad and mom and i would just keep projecting the films one by one. I was also improving my film collection by getting the ones which has titles(which i show first) and then i have a good mix of films with song, action sequences etc.

I loved to do this and showed it to all my friends. But something was still not right because, i can only do this in the afternoons when i get the sunlight in our kitchen. Well, I got curious if movies are projected the same way where do they get the light from if it is an evening show or a night show. My Father answered this question and he said i would need atleast a thousand watts white bulb for this. I hesitated to ask because it would be too costly in those days to get such a bulb, so i just restricted myself to that particular time everyday. I had so much fun with this i didn't want to do anything else. I thought of more improvements to my toy. I wanted to project an actual movie, atleast a piece from a scene. So i learnt from my uncle about how a movie projector works and then i tried to create a roll film holder using a spindle. It didn't come out very well because i was only able to get a small roll of the film and my frames per second was not very controlled so i was getting only a clip for few seconds which flickered ununiformly. I tried it several times and my toy was technically not very strong to handle it. The summer vacation was almost getting over and i started realising that i cannot do this everyday. I will have a lot of school stuff to do and i will only get to do this on weekends when i am at home and when i get enough sunlight in my kitchen. I just reluctantly asked my father if he can buy me a buld which can be bright enough to project a movie. He told me that there are actually mini projectors which you can use at home. I was so thrilled at that and i never knew my father would be willing to buy me one. He said he could buy me one on the next saturday when he comes back from work. I eagerly waited for that saturday evening ... but my father came empty handed. He actually came with my uncle and explained that the shop only had the last item and it was kind of broken so he didnt want to buy me that. I agreed and let it go. The next few weeks i kept asking my father and he only said there was no new stock of those items yet. I just lost interest and gave myself away to other forms of entertainment and that was about the time I learnt to play cricket from my cousin. All my projector stuff vanished in few weeks, my lens, films everything went to the attic and I completely forgot about that.
It was cricket from then on ...

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

BACK TO THE PAST I

I remember the first time I started watching movies was with my father. He used to take me to all those old Black and white movies of MGR and Sivaji. I used to like the movies which had lots of action, especially the one with Sword fights. So I kind of liked those MGR, Sivaji movies which were based on ancient historic subjects. The best ones were Nadodi mannan, Mannathi mannan, Alibabavum narpathu thirudargalum, Malai kallan, Uthama puthiran. I usually watch them very interestingly during the first half hour when you can expect some fast paced story, action and after a while when all the romances and songs start I fall asleep. Intervals are the best part when I get to have Popcorn and Icecream (If I am awake!) and back again for some sleep…action…sleep until finally it is the last 30 minutes of the movie. The climaxes are usually lengthy but that's when you get to see hell lot of action. I used to be fascinated when MGR escapes from Jail by bending the Jail Kambi and when he easily kills enemies in sword fight. The stunts are usually amazing, MGR runs around the palace during sword fight. He climbs the table, swings from the chandelier and jumps from the stairs. During this time I guess I was in primary school (I std or II std) so I didn't care much about the story – the only thing I knew was MGR was the good guy and all other Guys – Nambiar, Veerapa were villains. MGR's aim – Help poor people, Kill Bad Guys, romance a girl. Moral: Sword fight movies are interesting and don't fall asleep during interval.

As years passed, my interest in movies changed. Rajinikanth was becoming popular in those days and I was totally amazed by the movie – Murattu Kalai. Even now, when I hear the song "Pothuvaga em manasu thangam…" I get goose bumps. I used to like it so much that me and my cousin sometime sneak and go to the theatre to watch it. I guess we were in 3rd std and the ticket price was usually 90 Paise or less. I don't remember how many times we did this, but my Mother used to say that we used to go to that movie a lot and she usually had to send our uncles for a search and rescue mission. Payum puli was another amazing movie, that was the time I was introduced to Bruce lee movies and when I saw a similar styled movie in Tamil it was simply superb. I don't remember all the Bruce lee movie names but liked them all. My favorite was of course Enter the Dragon. I still remember when I was in 3rd std I guess and it was the final day of the Exams. We all completed our exams a little early and our class teacher asked us to perform something impromptu in front of the class. Some told stories, songs, Aruvai jokes but I told my teacher I liked Bruce lee and I wanted to show some stunts. I did not know where that came from, but that was the only thing which came to my mind because I was not a singer, didn't remember a story off hand and not good at jokes (remembering jokes). The Teacher asked me to come and stand in front of the class and show my stunts. I just stood up on the desk (not the chair) made a shrieking noise and was punching and kicking air – uuh aahh uhhh ahhh ! and after a few seconds I just shouted at my highest pitch, made the angriest face in the world, jumped from the desk with my legs stretched (exactly like Enter the dragon Climax fight) and landed on the pavement in front of the Teacher's desk. Applause everywhere! I still can't believe I actually did that, and I don't think I even told my parents then.

The summer holidays of the same year, I got interested in a new hobby, a chance to learn something.

To be continued ...