“Pessimists are of two types, the catastrophists, that is to say the types who look up in the starry heavens and see (metaphorically) only asteroids in the sky racing towards us to wipe us out as the dinosaurs were wiped out; and existential pessimists, that is to say those who see dissatisfaction as the permanent condition of mankind because of his inherent makeup, his contradictory desires and emotions, dissatisfaction that is perfectly compatible however with a great deal of enjoyment of life.” [Source]Which is why I totally appreciate the internet in all its glory, and yet I am doomed to always complain about something that isn’t quite as good as it should be. Why, for example, doesn’t gmail mark messages that I have already replied to, which a program as dumb, clumsy, and stupid as Windows Mail could do for me? And why does facebook roll out a search function that nobody needs and nobody wants, instead of allowing me to simply search my timeline for a keyword. (Don’t tell me to use CTRL+F on the activity log while scrolling, I tried that and it didn’t work.) If I could assign tags to links posted on fb it might actually become a useful archiving system, but usefulness is clearly not Zuckerberg’s vision. And why, oh why, did Google have to kill the Google reader?
Leaving aside my complaints about current affairs, here’s something I would like to see in the future:
Scientific Seminar Channel
I’d really like to see that all institutes with a good AV equipment lifestream their seminars, and that all their seminar announcements are collected in some common channel. I could browse there for areas of interest, mark upcoming talks I’d like to listen to, and get a timely reminder, no matter where on the planet the talk takes place. And needless to say, there would be a way to log in and virtually “raise hand” to ask a question. I’m visualizing that in the back of the room there’s a screen showing avatars or video streams of people logged in from remote places. The technology is clearly there, so where’s my seminar channel?
Shopping cart for seminar speakers
Something that I’ve wished for whenever I organize a conference is a simple way to find people who could give talks on a specific topic, ideally filtered by location. The way I do this presently is by browsing my memory, personal referral, or searching the arxiv for keywords and then looking up author names on Google, hoping they have a descriptive webpage. This isn’t only time-consuming, but also ineffective. I am thinking this could be useful also for reasons of science outreach. You could look up on such a website speakers on topics of current interest in your area and invite them for a public lecture or a coffee house talk. Ideally, people could also upload slides or videos of some representive talks so you could form an impression on what to expect from them. Maybe one would want to add a possibility to rate speakers.
This isn’t so much something I’d like to see, but something I think we will see. The intelligent robot that will do your household while you’re at work is still science fiction, and it will remain so for quite a while. But once you can construct a robot with a similar mobility as a human, it would be handy to have one at home that you could move around while you’re physically absent. Put the laundry from the washing machine into the dryer. Close the window. Water the plants. It seems to me that the technology for this is almost there. The economy probably isn’t.
Gamified PhD Life
You might have heard of the recent trend to gamification, inventing games around peoples’ self-set goals that they can use to collect points and virtual rewards whenever they make good decisions. Healthy living for example. You gained two points by not adding salt. The life of a PhD student would make for a good gamification. You gain points for each talk you give, conversation with your supervisor that you survived, group meeting that you didn’t fall asleep in, and if you have amassed 10.000 points you’re ready for the final battle.
Two apps that really exist and that you might appreciate: The particles app for the iPad and GmailTex.
What app would make your life a little better?