Stuff That futurE shouLd brinG (STELG) #4 : No more coins

We truly live in a world of extremes. One hand millions are made or lost in a nano second thanks to commodities, foreign exchange or equity trading done by a banker over a supercomputer. One the other hand one still need to be tied down to heavy bits of nickel/brass/copper alloys to be able to pay for a service or a product. Take a quick look at an average wallet or purse, there is a large compartment that is still dedicated to carrying coins. Coins? … The most ancient form of physical monetary exchange, still being dragged around and used in 2011.

When most of the money today exists in bits & bytes in our bank accounts, its astonishing how often these round bits of metal stop you in your tracks. Think of how many times you have stood in front of a parking meter, fumbling for that exact and almost always elusive combination of coins that will satisfy the metallic beast with an insatiable appetite of coins. Or at a kiosk trying to pay for that bar of chocolate where the amount is magic number which is too small to be paid by a credit card, but large enough to exhaust all the coins in your wallet but still leave you 5 cents short, and in effect without that bar of chocolate. This magic number which one is almost invariably short in exact change, is also called the Higgs Boson number (cousin of the elusive particle by the same name that scientists are lusting after).

The most infuriating experience being, when you land in a foreign country and receive a handful of coins back as change after you pay for coffee or a small item. Serendipity will invariably ensure that every possible denomination of coins is represented in that handful. Each one will be a different shape and the number written in a different illegible font hidden among flowery designs. And if this happens to be a coin from an arabic country, you might as well forget trying to decipher the value of that coin – as happened to me in the recent trip to Turkey. There is no way of knowing if that handful is enough to pay for your taxi ride or half a cup of turkish tea from a roadside vendor.

No sane person today can offer a credible explanation as to why coins are still needed. Everything can be paid for electronically, virtually or if you were to ask some Indian politicians – in mind.

The super efficient swiss realized the uselessness of coins long back and introduced a Cash card, which you can load up from an ATM and use it as a replacement of coins for small payments. But in their perennial quest for perfection, they forgot to ask the retailers if they would be willing to accept payment via these cash cards. So now most people carry a cash card in their pocket, which they cannot use for payments. The banks have now realized this foll and are moving away from this Cash chip/card. But as irony would have it, they forgot to inform their customers … thus the cycle continues and coins continue to thrive.

I predict that within the next 15 – 20 years, coins will be eradicated as a form of monetary payment. People wallets will be thinner and lighter, with no ugly bulges from the back of suit trousers and jeans, thanks to wallets loaded with coins. They will purely be of novelty value for collectors, means of historical education aids for kids or for political memorial purposes. I for that matter am willing to go a step further and propose bio-metric recognition like retina or fingerprint scans as the only means of payment, thus eliminating the need for even carrying credit cards and banknotes completely. This will effectively eliminate many of frauds but perhaps will inspire new schemes of identity or body snatchers. But as they say vice always follows virtue.

Abraham lincoln on a memorial coin - clearly not pleased with my idea and looking the other way. Image from wikipedia

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Stuff That futurE shouLd brinG (STELG) #3 : A ghost writer

Having dipped my feet into the cold water of blogging a few months back, I have gone through the classic cycle of :

  • enthusiasm (wow – I am writer now! Though am i the only one who ready my posts inspite of slowly growing list of followers?)
  • delight (of converting my thoughts into a digital form that are sent out into the vortex of the world-wide web to see if someone else out there with the same thoughts)
  • pat yourself on your back (When you get a comment or a ‘like’. But since it takes all sort of people to make the world, occasionally I also get brickbats on some of the ideas and posts the i publish. One of my last posts about where i directed some light-hearted pun towards some cricket players was one of them)
  • horror (what the heck did i just publish?)
  • anxiety (What to write about next – this ranges between bursting with ideas at a given point in time to staring at blank glowing rectangular screen waiting for inspiration to hit)

So a few days back, a thought struck me – Wouldn’t it be nice if someone or something could prod or help you to writing your blog posts? It sure wouldn’t be bad, i must say.  Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to walk away from the arduous task of having to think up ideas, structure my thoughts and then play with the beautiful medium that is (elastic) words to express them. I wouldn’t mind a helpful prop-up once in a while. Afterall, i juggle many balls in the air all the time – work, family, cricket(watching and coaching), music, keeping fit, reading. I just added another one to it recently – blogging. And since trying to find a better way of doing things is ingrained into my DNA, I want to make sure that each of them works pristinely (though my wife perhaps will have a different opinion about my work-life balance)

So i sincerely hope that a STELG comes along and :

  1. Reads my mind and provides me with a shortlisted set of ideas that i could write about
  2. Helps my get those words out faster – this task of clackety tapping a keyboard while simultaneously thinking, structuring, trying to keep a straight back while sitting, sipping my tea and adjusting the level of music on my wonderful Cadence Amayas, can almost qualify me to a Guinness book of world record entry
  3. Does away automatically with all those squiggly lines under the mis-spelt words. (I would love to outsource this kind of mind numbing typo correcting tasks – like i can do at work by sending it to some helpful souls sitting in another country :-)
  4. Proof read my post and offer grammatical suggestions and even automatically correct the simple ones (Please do not suggest that horrible approach to grammar correction that microsoft word takes)
  5. Recycle stuff, parts, ideas, tags etc from my old posts – Many a times thoughts are expressed around a similar set of topics probably visited in an earlier post. It is a tedious task to type up the same tags, heading, links etc repeatedly.

So WordPress, Blogger or any of you blog providers out there – are you listening? Hopefully some of you will have these soon and your stock would move up in my eyes.

An impression of a blogger, wondering whether to set forth or not. Image via Wikipedia

Stuff That futurE shouLd brinG (STELG) #2 : Real holiday price comparison sites

You want holidays to be easy, relaxing and fun. But sometimes the way to book a holiday can be anything but! I just finished booking one. When i started off on the process, i figured it will be an easy task . Simply give your dates to a price comparison site, who thanks to millions of dollars of investments & funding poured into them, will do the leg work and get you the best possible deal. This expectation is not unwarranted after all. TV, newspapers & the web are teeming with their ads, all screaming & promising you the moon.

The first one I used (the number 1 as per their claim) took my request and promised me the proverbial moon, complete with a picture of pretty airhostess that you could stare at, while the site worked its magic. A second later, 12 different pop-ups opened across my screen, each one of them for the other websites that it was comparing the prices from. It was a virtual explosion of all snazzy flashing pop-ups, deals, free flights, dirt cheap rooms in the best luxury hotels, free car rentals et all. It was almost like that pretty airhostesss had spilled the nice gin & tonic that you were expecting to be served, all over your face and had suddenly revealed her true form, which is actually a three-headed vampire ant queen . Now wait a minute – I asked for you, the great commercial price leach &  provider of solace to us digital deal seekers, to give me a solution; not 12 more questions in response to my query. I am not a travel agent, who is trained to expertly seek out the lowest price from a jumble of different price & travel options shown in 12 different formats and currencies. By the time I located an itinerary that looked good to me and proceeded to do the booking, suddenly the price jumped up 20% …. hmm interesting ploy.

So one STELG that i would love to see is REAL price comparison sites for holidays. I am almost making it sound like that I am perpetually booking holidays. I would like to but as life would have it – I can’t. But when I try to book one, it ought to be easy.  Here is a possible list of features I would like to see :

  • Get a real price, not an ‘starting from’ advertised price, which is more like a trapdoor trying to lure you in. Do what you have to do, even if that means employing quantum physics principles, or getting Harry Potter to wave his magic wand to get the user out of the deathly hallows of continuous back & forth searching
  • Look for options. One simple example could be locations. For instance, I was looking for a holiday in southern Turkey. I have never been there before and i only know of a couple of places. Get me options, you have a huge database of possible holiday locations. Use the variables that i have just fed in, which should give you a treasure trove of information on what kind of place i am expecting, what i might be looking for etc.
  • Realize that I can wait. Yes, in today’s internet world speed is king. Google has perfected the art of displaying results as you type. Most people really cannot fathom the difference between 0.0067 seconds or 0.1 seconds to complete the search. If a few milliseconds can get you more breathing time to cook up a better result, please do it. It’s good to slow down once in a while
  • Don’t up sell for the sake of it. Does it really make sense to try to give me an option of a renting a private beach with its own helipad, when all i asked for a beach cottage with a sea view. Slightly different price ranges, don’t you think?
  • Add some form of intelligence, artificial or otherwise. I can fully appreciate that Europe to US is a long flight. When you can see that i am travelling with two kids, i am certainly not going to choose a flight whose flight time is 23 hours, where in 9 hrs is the flying time and 14 hrs is the waiting time in London, with the added pleasure of changing airports
  • And finally … no annoying pop-ups please. We are in 2011. Pop-ups were a neat technology trick when they were invented. Much like the digital watch with a built-in alarm. Time has moved on
Since we have to wait till an option like the ones described above comes along, I am going to use that time wisely by fixing a nice Gin & tonic. But i better do that myself and keep it away from that airhostess lurking behind the pop-ups, trying to spill my drink.

My Gin & tonic, hidden from the evil airhostess. Image via gintonicworld.com

Stuff That futurE shouLd brinG (STELG) #1 – Plaque resistant teeth

Hey Charles Darwin, where are you? I scoured over your seminal book – ‘The evolution of species’ and found no reference to something that should sit at the apex of the next wave of Human development.  – Plaque resistant teeth.

The human race has suffered from the MTAWTY (My Teeth Are Whiter Than Yours) syndrome since millenniums. The quest for plaque removing secrets and white teeth has been the root cause of many famous conquests & battles, including Waterloo (you have to believe this – check the facts here). But inspite of millions of sacrificed lives and years of evolution behind us, human race still suffers inexorably from tiny bacteria which drive many men & women to excrutiating pain and numerous dentists to vast riches. And it is fair to point out, that it really only us the human beings who suffer from such frailities. The mighty lions and crocodiles, who rip apart huge animals with their jaws, never have to worry about the mind numbing ritual of brushing, flossing & mouthwash. The crocodiles just sit their with their mouth open, a little birdy does the job of cleaning its teeth while collecting his daily lunch quota. How perfectly nice. (Whether this is true or just anecdotal is still being debated. But what the heck, I would like to believe in it)

But we, the human beings have to trudge off to the dentist every now and then. Then sit there in scary looking chairs, with our jaws stretched open in all types of contorted positions while hundreds of precision instruments like water jets, minute suction pumps etc clank about our teeth and gums trying to remove plaque that shouldn’t be there in the first place. These sessions usually cost a fortune, but the end of it all, the dentist will pick up a dangerously looking crooked hook or instrument and start scraping away at your teeth. Every scrape ends up microns away from reducing your gums to a bloody mess. When inquired, why does he  have to revert to this technique, of which a butcher will be proud of. The answer is : “This is still the most effective was of removing the difficult parts”. The primitiveness of the whole thing is biblical. What’s even more ironic is not just the fact that one has to repeat this ordeal every few months, but with your each visit, you notice that your invoices are getting fatter & the size of the diamond on the dentist’s finger keeps getting bigger.

So the first Stuff That futurE shouLd brinG (STELG) is man’s ability to grow plaque resistant teeth. The teeth should be able to distinguish between plaque & chocolate. Chocolate should cling to teeth, thus increasing the time that you can enjoy the taste, but plaque is simply rejected. Even if some rogue plaque articles manage to bribe the chocolate molecules to have them stick to the teeth, there should be micro plaque eating soldiers unleashed by the tongue the eliminate them for good. Even if it does not come naturally to human beings, human teeth cells could be crossed with teflon cells. This will ensure that all plaque will simply just slip off.

But we are not there yet. And i have been happily munching away on the exquisite 75% Ecuador Cocoa Lindt dark chocolate, while writing this. So i better run off to do the inane dental hygiene routine, otherwise i will be adding handsomely to my dentist’s new diamond ring.  But while i do that, a question for you to ponder – Which is the happier crocodile of the two?

image from mjmbooks.com

image from timeonline.info

Stuff That futurE shouLd brinG (STELG) – If future is coming



I recall seeing a science fiction movie as a kid. The movie depicted the world as it might be in 2010 or whereabouts. It had all the clichés that we associate with the future : flying cars, robots as household helpers, a hopelessly polluted world, people daily commuting to Mars for work by private space shuttles, everyone wearing pointy, golden coloured costumes, compressed food palettes that miraculously turn into a scrumptious pizza or roast chicken when treated for 10 seconds in machines that are a funkier version of today’s microwave ovens. It is 2011 now, but none of these things are around. With the notable exception of flying cars. What? You haven’t seen them yet? James Bond has had one since 1960. Closer still, my son has hundreds of them. Ok, back to the topic at hand. Chances are the same producer is busy making another film that will depict the world as it will be in 2300. It will surely stretch our imagination and show new wonders that will amaze and eventually evade us. On second thoughts, maybe he/she should get in touch with Mr Kurzweil and take a reality check. 

But the trouble with science fiction is that no-one seems to talk, care or think about mundane day-to-day things that surely need changing or evolving (some of them drastically). I can live with my current car, which doesn’t fly. But what I can’t live with is continue to having to endure the torturous visits to my dentist (I must admit she is nice, but don’t tell my wife!) where my I have to keep my jaws stretched open in all types of contorted positions while hundreds of precision instruments like water jets, minute suction pumps etc clank about my teeth and gums trying to remove plaque that shouldn’t be there in the first place.

I cannot create a new improved line of dentistry. But I consider myself to be more of a thinker (being very ambitious, I am thinking on the lines of Bertrand Russell crossed with Woody Allen) rather than an inventor or a scientist. So I, the unfortunate victim of today’s primitive dental techniques, hereby commit to starting a new line of posts where I would like to muse about Stuff That futurE shouLd brinG (STELG). Maybe this (thanks to mine and hopefully some of the reader’s ideas) will eventually morph into a veritable treasure trove of ideas about new stuff that future should bring. Now these may start off with rants about stuff, services, things, products that are broken, badly designed, half-thought through and need to be redesigned completely. Or it could just be something that doesn’t exist today and absolutely must exist tomorrow to make the future worthwhile. Or a wild wish that is lurking somewhere in the mind, waiting to find an outlet. The focus might be on things around us that seem irrelevant or too obvious for science fiction to think about, though i am sure occasionally things like flying cars will also make an appearance.

I am convinced that if I keep up with it, the ideas will evolve on the scales of imagination, importance, usability and maybe wackiness. We can then patent these ideas and sell them for millions of dollars (or whichever currency is the strongest at that time) by publishing them in swanky book with a bright & shiny jacket and quotes from important sounding people! You may scoff at it for it not being a new idea, but it is surely worth a shot. If nothing else, it should make fun reading years down the line. Remember “Hope springs eternal”

So the first one to follow soon…