March 21st, 2012


Domestic robots: it's a dirty job and I don't want to have to do it

If I can clean spam out of my inbox automatically, why do I have to push a vacuum cleaner around by hand? If I can have a robot do the work of cleaning and scrubbing the floors, emptying the cat litter, clearing the cutters, cutting the grass, washing the windows, scooping the leaves out of the pool and grabbing the garbage, why would I ever do it by hand? To find out exactly how good the robots have become, I set up robot vacuums, floor mops and cat litter scoopers and left them to it. I also look at the range of other domestic robots on the market from the practical to the peculiar, and explain why the Japanese are so keen on humanoid robots.

Most of us are no Mike Rowe. If there's a dirty job, we'd prefer if someone else took care of it. So instead of paying for a landscaper or a maid, how about buying a robot? Cleaning the floor, dealing with the trash, scooping the cat litter. Can you turn over the nasty jobs to a machine now?

We’ve been waiting for a robot butler since Rosey appeared in The Jetsons, and while that’s still very much science fiction, there’s plenty of research into general purpose humanoid robots, some of which look disturbingly human. What you can buy today are robotic devices for the home that do one or two specific things, automatically or with minimal human interaction. Robot vacuum cleaners and lawnmowers, robot mops and cat litter robots. Are they really robots – and are they any good?
Read the rest at Tom's Guide

And in all of this I should add that it's Simon who does the majority of the cleaning. The one thing he would most like a home robot to do is folding the laundry, which is what iRobot CEO Colin Angle most wants as well. There is a verrrry slow towel folding prototype in the piece...

HP Z1 workstation: power without the tower

If I used a desktop PC, I'd probably want it to be this one (I've been laptop only for a few years, but I'd love this on a VESA wall mount with a touch screen).

HP's Z1 is a workstation built into a 27" screen, in a way IT departments and users will love.

For a home PC, an all-in-one PC is an ideal solution; a screen that's big enough for movies, often a touch screen so you don't have to pull out a keyboard to look at photos or browse the Web, and only one cable to deal with. That would be just as useful at work, especially with desk space coming under pressure as companies try to save on rent by squeezing more people into smaller spaces (hot desking and being more flexible about starting new projects quickly are also less convenient with the multiple boxes and cables of traditional desktop PCs). But consumer all-in-ones don't have powerful processors and graphics cards, because they're designed for casual gaming and multimedia, and they're hard to service and support. If the screen fails, the whole PC usually needs replacing; if you want to add more memory or a larger hard drive, cracking open an all-in-one is far harder than opening a desktop case.

HP has paid attention to all of those issues and produced the Z1. Read the rest of my first look at the Z1 on ZDNet.


ZDNet book review: Design for Hackers

That's hackers as in coders and people who take joy in understanding systems; this is the book if you want to take the same joy in understanding design. This is one of the books I've enjoyed reading for review the most and learned the most from, in technical terms. I've been learning about colour space models since 1991 when I first covered Photoshop and I still learned new things; I finally understand Hue and Lightness. I've had some fantastic designers and artists explain proportion and guiding the eye through a design over the years, but this book gives you systematic examples (and makes much more sense of the impressionists for me than many art critics). And I'm a very amateur font geek so it was great to get a potted theory of type structure and why it matters. I was a bit irritated by the emphasis on Mac as the only system designers use and the only example of good hardware design; the analysis of good design in the Mac world worked better than the moments of uncritical adulation. But all in all, an excellent read.

For a book so packed with fascinating and informative details, Design for Hackers: Reverse Engineering Beauty starts much too slowly. The author is so keen to tell you what he's going to tell you, what difference he hopes it will make to you and why design literacy matters that the first 40 pages are essentially an extended introduction (even if reminding people to sketch out ideas is always a good thing).

Skip to the meat of the book where Kadavy dives in and takes something many people know instinctively — Comic Sans is not the right font for serious design — and analyses why, in a way that makes immediate sense. Instead of simply declaring that something is good or, in this case, bad design, he shows you why.
Read the rest of my review on ZDNet